Business

More companies want in on Facebook’s open-source data center experiment

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg talks with Tim O'Reilly at the fifth Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose, Calif., on Jan. 28.

Above: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg talks with Tim O'Reilly at the fifth Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose, Calif., on Jan. 28.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Facebook’s vision of an open-source data center sounds less and less crazy every day.

It seems like it was just yesterday that Facebook jolted the IT world with word that it would release the designs for different parts of its data center for the rest of the world to see in the Open Compute Project (OCP). That was back in 2011.

Since then, momentum has picked up quickly. Vendors have been coming around to the idea and signing on as partners.

And that trend will continue, judging by all the keynotes at the fifth OCP summit, which started today. Just as more companies are providing the supply of OCP gear, demand seems to be picking up. An increasing number of businesses are running applications on top of OCP-style hardware. At the same time, Facebook is pushing ahead with new waves of optimized hardware that could conceivably make it into the OCP in the future.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made an appearance at the conference, talking about how the company has made clear strides as a result of the project.

“Over the last year, we’ve saved the equivalent of the energy of 40,000 homes in a year and saved an amount of emissions equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road for a year,” Zuckerberg said. “If we can help bring those kinds of savings and that kind of efficiency to other companies as well, then that’s great. We’re really proud of that.”

All in all, the progress at Open Compute does bolster Facebook, not least from a marketing standpoint. But the impact seems to be extending farther and farther beyond Facebook’s realm.

For starters, more companies that make big IT buys are showing their support for the OCP technology.

Cloud-based file-sharing provider Box has joined, as have financial information provider Bloomberg and Russian search giant Yandex, said Frank Frankovsky, president of the Open Compute Foundation and vice president of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook. Such action hints at the appeal of this hardware.

IO, a manufacturer of data center modules — think of a unit the size of a shipping container — is providing data center infrastructure to 600 customers using Open Compute-compliant hardware, said George Slessman, IO’s chief executive.

And OCP activity is now spreading around the globe, with new chapters springing up in Europe and Japan, Frankovsky said.

Multiple companies, including storage hardware vendor LSI, are contributing important intellectual property to the project. Microsoft, hardly a technology vendor with a major open-source reputation, contributed designs for the servers that run its Windows Azure public cloud as well as applications like Office 365 and Bing.

More vendors are looking to collect revenue by building hardware that accords with the Open Compute designs. Two laboratories, including one at the University of Texas at San Antonio, are now researching products to ensure they meet standards and are doling out new certifications. That could assure IT buyers of the legitimacy of servers that are said to meet OCP specifications.

Taking advantage of all the ideas engineers have shared with the Open Compute Project has paid off big for Facebook. The social network company has been steadily relying more on the specially designed hardware and drawing on fresh concepts like the HipHop Virtual Machine for optimizing code. In total, “over the last three years, our infrastructure and our focus on efficiency, this full stack has saved us over $1.2 billion,” said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure.

And Facebook will certainly keep taking advantage of all the technology innovations flowing through the Open Compute Project. All the servers in Facebook’s data center in Luleå, Sweden, comply with Open Compute designs, and all new servers in all Facebook data centers around the world going forward will be 100 percent compliant with the project, Parikh said.

Hardware for very cheaply storing pictures and other Facebook data in a new way could be on the way next. Parikh showed off a new hardware box that stores files on Blu-ray DVDs. Four million movies have been made so far, Parikh said. “If we ripped them into individual files, you’ll only need seven of these cabs [cabinets] to store all of those movies on,” he said.

Letting engineers at many technology vendors collaborate on hardware through the OCP frees up Facebook’s own engineers to work on that sort of wild and crazy idea. Given that Facebook showed off the technology at the OCP event, it’s not a stretch to think one day Facebook will open up the blueprints for the Blu-ray box to the rest of the world, just as it’s done for several other pieces of its data center gear.

More information:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 we... read more »

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