Facebook's Plan To Revolutionize Data Centers Is Gaining Steam

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Facebook's year-old project to create open source hardware for data centers has gotten a major boost. A whole bunch of big players have signed on to participate.

It's called the Open Compute Project. Facebook wants new designs for computers, storage and other equipment that are more energy efficient.

But there's a catch. Companies that participate have to agree to "open source" their designs and make them available for free to anyone that wants them. That's not saying they have to give away the hardware itself -- they'll sell it to Facebook and, maybe, others.

But their new designs require that all their pieces and parts work together. Enough with what the OCP calls “gratuitous differentiation."

Today, OCP announced that a whole bunch of big players have joined including HP, AMD, Fidelity, Quanta, Salesforce.com, VMware and Canonical, among others

These companies are working on a new kind of server called Open Rack. It will pack more motherboards and disk drives into a smaller space. This will let data centers pack more computers into their buildings instead of having to build bigger buildings.

HP and Dell have already contributed new Open Rack server and storage designs. HP's design is called “Project Coyote” and Dell's is called “Zeus." HP and Dell will sell these to Facebook. Enterprises that own their own data centers may insist on Open Rack products, too.

OCP began after Facebook engineers designed their own hardware for the company's first data center in Prineville, Oregon. Facebook then openly shared those hardware designs, including motherboards, power supply, and parts for servers. Other companies, like Google and Amazon have also designed their own hardware, but generally kept the designs secret.

This is a great use of Facebook's power. It is forcing all of its hardware suppliers to work together to solve big design problems and then give those energy-efficient designs to the world — and undercut one of the main advantages of its archrival, Google. 



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