SAN JOSE, Calif. – Facebook pushed forward its six-month old initiative for open source data center hardware with new partners and specifications. The effort is one of the first and most aggressive trying to define standards for server components, systems and data centers for the largest users.
To date large scale operators such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft have chosen to design their own systems and data centers as a point of competitive advantage. Whether Facebook can drive consolidation around its approach remains an open question, but the presence of new partners including Amazon shows it is gaining momentum.
Facebook has defined a new open source specification for a computer rack geared to be a prime building block for Web 2.0-class data centers. It has also released the design of a new data center it built in Sweden powered mainly by hydroelectric power.
For its part, Asustek has released gerber files for Intel and AMD used as part of the Open Compute Project launched in April. Red Hat said it will certify hardware designs using its software.
"When you look at how the principles of open source have been applied to software and hardware its night and day—let's make it day and day," said Frank Frankovsky, a Facebook engineer leading the project.
The new rack design—a three-rack wide concept--is one of the more innovative aspects of the project. (We will add a link to the spec when one becomes available.)
"The rack will become the server chassis," said Frankovsky. "We envision this as blade servers done right in open source using the full rack to innovate and giving operators a common way to deploy systems," he said in a talk at a New York event.
The chassis is not only wide but uses a 1.5U pitch for systems. The switch from the traditional 1U size is a departure from the concept of blade servers, ultra dense systems that have tried to save floor space but can be hard to cool.
The wide rack is expected to include a greater range of networking and storage elements than today's racks. For example, rather than using direct-attached storage, the rack is expected to use cross-connected arrays of hard or flash disks.
The initiative has gained partners and a more formal structure. A newly-formed Open Compute Foundation includes a five person board whose members include serial entrepreneur Andy Bechtolsheim, founder of Sun Microsystems and Arista Networks.
Other board members come from Goldman Sachs, Intel and Rackspace, a Web hosting company. Other partners now include Intel, Asustek, Dell, Mellanox, Huawei, Red Hat, Baidu, Mozilla, NTT Data, Georgia Tech University, North Carolina State University and CERN.
When it was announced in April, data center users Zynga and Rackspace announced they were part of the project. An Amazon engineer spoke at the New York event.
"I've been involved with standards since Multibus in grad school, and these standards accelerate innovation," said Bechtolsheim. "What's been missing is a standard at the system level," he said.
"This is the first time we have an open standard for a rack," he added. "I've already got email from people in China who want to join the project," he said.