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Facebook data center project takes aim at vendor lock-in

Joab Jackson | Oct. 28, 2011
By launching the Open Compute Project as a stand-alone foundation, Facebook is hoping to further standardize the market for data center equipment, thereby reducing costs and vendor lock-in, the new foundation's board members said at a press conference Thursday.

The downside to this approach was that each company was reinventing the server, so to speak. "Because there was no standard, everybody was doing their own thing," Bechtolsheim said. "It would be much better if there was a standard that everyone would use."

The OCP was designed to give "hyper-scale" IT customers, as Frankovsky termed Facebook and other large Internet companies, more of a say in how equipment gets defined. But the standards body should also benefit vendors, who still should find plenty of room to differentiate themselves in the implementation of the standards.

"There are certain things that are absolute differentiators [for vendors]; they are true innovative technologies. But there are other areas where I think we need to do a group hug and say 'let's stop this unwanted differentiation," Frankovsky said. He noted, for example, that motherboard manufacturers have different approaches to "instrumenting the motherboard," necessitating the Facebook data center folks to write multiple programs to handle the same task.

Jason Waxman, general manager of Intel's data center group, likened OCP's approach to providing the specifications for building a car. The specs should define how the components fit together, without defining how the components themselves work. For example, a car spec would provide the size of the engine compartment without specifying how the engine should work. "If Dell delivers a better engine, then they don't have to publish the spec of what the engine is," he said.

What OCP would eliminate is "non-valued added differentiation," Waxman said. "It shouldn't be about the size of the engine compartment or [be] proprietary the way the engine hooks to the drive train," he said.

The group will focus not only on servers but on all aspects of the data center, including the cooling systems and power distribution systems. "If you don't think about this holistically as a system, the levels of efficiency that you get are pretty minimal," Frankovsky said.

The organization has already identified a number of projects to take on. One is Open Rack, an effort to establish a mechanical and power distribution standard for server racks. This would give organizations an alternative to purchasing racks that are designed only to hold one vendor's servers, a problem in the blade server community.

Another project aims to publish open specifications for modular motherboards, which would allow both vendors and end users to assemble motherboards using the most appropriate components for their needs. To this end, Asustek is expected to publish the complete specifications to two of its motherboard designs, code-named Wildcat and Windmill, Frankovsky said. This, in theory anyway, would allow end users and system users to swap out different motherboard components to achieve greater performance or power efficiencies.


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