MENLO PARK, Calif. – Facebook showed EETimes its first working prototype of Open Rack, an energy efficient server that's intended to power data centers which can theoretically scale to more than 100,000 physical machines.
Amazon, Google and Microsoft also specify low cost, energy efficient servers and other data center gear. But they generally keep those designs private, aiming to get a proprietary advantage. Facebook's "open" angle isn't related to a Linux-like use of the word. Rather, it indicates use of modular power supplies, standard mechanical form factors and other elements any vendor can make. This means everything can be swapped out, without replacing the entire server.
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OpenRack is very much a work in progress. The current rack uses
Facebook’s third and so-far most compact generation of a two-socket x86
server. Engineers here already envision a fourth generation that shrinks
the server design yet again. Ideally, the board would contain only
processors and a PCI Express fabric, no Ethernet or other components—but
that will require a variant of Express that is only on the drawing
Each OpenVault tray has control electronics on a slide-out board. In future, the board could host an ARM-based controller to handle special storage functions. Facebook believes such an application could become its first use of an ARM SoC.
In the meantime, Facebook engineers are working on an interim step where hard disk boot drives are replaced by smaller, more robust solid-state drives. Specifically, they expect to move from 250-500 Gbyte hard drives—the smallest they can now get—to 128 Gbyte serial ATA SSDs which have enough capacity and might even be cheaper.
For storage at the rack level, one of the big milestones of the current design is OpenVault, a new design for an ultra low cost hard disk drive array.
Despite its big ambitions, Facebook’s small server engineering team is expanding just a bit but will stay lean, probably less than 40 people. "Our philosophy is to keep small fast teams--huge teams move slowly," said Matt Corddry, senior manager of hardware engineering who formerly held a similar job at Amazon. "We typically have less than ten people per team. We love to go fast and have small teams with everything they need to break rules and build things quickly, leveraging partners."
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