Facebook’s Open Compute Project Shifts Data Center Design Industry

Facebook's Open Compute Project, which publicly publishes hardware blueprints for data center design, is at the center of one the biggest shifts in the IT industry in recent years.

According to the project website, Open Compute includes development of innovative data center designs relating to computing, storage and general infrastructure, as well as server chassis and racks, power and cooling systems. The program publishes these blueprints, enabling other organizations to refine and expand upon the designs, drastically changing the current environment of the market. 

"There is this massive transiting taking place toward what the new data center of tomorrow will look like,"  Peter Levine, partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, told Businessweek. "We're talking about hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars being shifted from the incumbents to new players coming in with Facebook-like technology."

Gartner highlighted the project as a trend for IT professionals to watch over the next five years. Furthermore, Gartner predicted that if more equipment manufacturers become involved in the project, it could be possible for organizations to purchase data center equipment from anyone, which would commoditize this sector of the industry.

Facebook's server design, which is published on the project's site, offers a simplified construction, doing away with extra memory slots, cables and protective plastic cases. This technique  improves airflow over each server, according to Facebook engineers. Businessweek's Ashlee Vance called the servers "slimmed-down, exposed motherboards" which fit into a fridge-sized rack. Due to their simplified design with fewer typical components, the system cuts down on cooling requirements. The servers can operate at up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, a substantial rise over the commonly held belief that 75 degrees Fahrenheit represents the maximum temperature for optimal server function.

Open Compute's efforts are bolstered by the contributions of data center equipment designers such as Hyve Solutions and Penguin Computing. Hyve Solutions made the blueprints for their OCP-Ready server design, which is built for a standard 19 inch rack, available as open source documents. Additionally, Penguin Computing recently demonstrated a new microserver platform which was built according to the card specifications established by the Open Compute Project. This was one of the first implementations of the project's published standards.

Facebook stated that everyone can access these designs through the project's Web page and invites comments and critiques on the published specifications. 

"Inspired by the model of open source software, we want to share the innovations in our data center for the entire industry to use and improve upon," Facebook stated.

Industry expert Tom Barton told Businessweek that Facebook's Open Compute Project puts pressure on everyone in the data center design sector, as it could change the way businesses create, sell and purchase IT equipment.

"What Facebook has done to the hardware market is dramatic," Barton said.

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