SAN JOSE, Calif. – Like many other tech journalists, I got an invite this week to a Jan. 15 press conference at Facebook headquarters. The invite says, “Come and see what we’re building.”
Within minutes the tech press started speculating on the news. Facebook is providing no details, a fact that throws kerosene on speculation that has ranged from a Facebook phone to a new partnership or service.
My top guess is this is related to the Open Compute Summit, the regular event Facebook hosts around open source design for its data center systems. It’s a reasonable guess since the summit starts the day after the press conference. At a Facebook holiday gathering for the media, two representatives of the social networking giant said they have big news in store for the event.
I have a couple ideas about what would be big news at that summit. The main one is a new member with lots of clout. That’s a pretty high hurdle on a number of fronts.
If an Amazon, Google or Microsoft joined, it would really give the push for open data center design specs a huge boost. But that’s very unlikely given those companies continue to signal they believe they can get an edge in building faster, lower cost and lower power data centers by keeping their designs secret.
China’s Tencent and Baidu are working with the project at some level. It’s possible another data center player of that ilk, such as eBay, might join the project. I would call that medium-sized news.
Among tech partners, Facebook already has most of the chip and systems companies falling all over each other to support them. Backers include an Intel general manager and Arista Networks founder on the Open Compute board and event sponsors such as AMD, Applied Micro, Calxeda, Dell, HP, as well as top disk and solid-state drive makers and contract manufacturers.
Among the few conspicuously missing names are IBM and Oracle. But such a partnership is not big enough to warrant a press event for everyone from the Wall Street Journal on down, and it would only irk the many other tech partners left out of the party.
It’s too early for Facebook to make any big commitments to a radical new direction like ARM servers. It will take another year or two to finish creating the 64-bit chips data centers need to go big on ARM—and even longer to get the systems and software right.