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Open Compute Project aims to do for hardware what open source did for software

Open Compute Project aims to do for datacentre hardware what open source did for software

Enterprise IT incumbent Microsoft announced Tuesday that the company plans to open source its datacentre reference architectures and join the Facebook-led Open Compute Project. It’s a big win for OCP, but will other service providers follow suit? Racesh Kumar, research vice president of enterprise infrastructure and operations strategy at Gartner told Business Cloud News that Microsoft’s decision to join OCP may be more significant than most realise.

Headed by Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure Frank Frankofvky, the Open Compute Project was launched in 2011 as an open source community focused on engineering hardware specifically for cloud and web-scale computing.

According to Frankovsky, hardware built according to OCP specs can cut failure rates by a factor of three. The goals of the project include helping companies save energy, money, and space; make their hardware more reliable and effective at scaling; and allow them to adopt multi-source procurement strategies to help de-risk their supply chains.

Bill Laing, corporate vice president, cloud & enterprise at Microsoft said the company will contribute its server specifications that underlie the services (Windows Azure, Office 365, Bing, Skype, etc.) deployed from its global datacentres.

“These servers are optimized for Windows Server software and built to handle the enormous availability, scalability and efficiency requirements of Windows Azure, our global cloud platform. They offer dramatic improvements over traditional enterprise server designs: up to 40 percent server cost savings, 15 percent power efficiency gains and 50 percent reduction in deployment and service times,” Laing said.

“We also expect this server design to contribute to our environmental sustainability efforts by reducing network cabling by 1,100 miles and metal by 10,000 tons across our base of 1 million servers.”

Since 1989 the company said it has invested over $15bn in developing its cloud infrastructure.

“Microsoft and Facebook are the only cloud service providers to publicly release these server specifications, and the depth of information Microsoft is sharing with OCP is unprecedented,” Laing added.

As part of the announcement Microsoft’s open source arm, Microsoft Open Technologies, is open sourcing code it created for managing hardware operations like power supply, server diagnostics and fan control.

The announcement is a big win for the Open Compute Project, which despite counting serious IT players like Rackspace and Intel as members had not – until now – attracted anything more than lip service from the big three cloud service providers, Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. The only question is, will any of the others follow suit?

“If you look at OCP it has been hugely successful in many ways and I think Microsoft’s decision to join is more significant than people realise,” Rakesh Kumar, research vice president of enterprise infrastructure and operations strategy at Gartner told Business Cloud News. “The decision seems in part driven by what’s happening in the hardware space. We have lots of end-users saying ‘wait a minute, there are new standards out there, new ways of doing this, we don’t have to get shafted by traditional vendors’. By joining the Project Microsoft is saying it recognises these changes, and with having lots of technology and datacentres around the world, has little to lose and lots to gain.”

Kumar explained that when it comes to hyper-scale cloud providers like Google and Amazon, Microsoft has a different strategy because it is still invested in on-premise hardware, a segment of the enterprise tech sector in the throes of change – as evidenced by IBM’s sale of its low-end x86 business to Lenovo last week.

“They’re communicating to the hardware providers like HP and IBM – which it competes with on a service level – that there are different options on the table, that it wants to be a serious cloud provider, that its datacentres are growing,” he said.

“It’s really about whether this technology will help Microsoft keep or gain traction with CIOs. If those business decisions are are going to be driven more by things like OCP I think they have to jump in, but it’s not clear that it will and I think the other providers are going to wait to see if this takes off until they decide to dilute their own specifications.”

Both Amazon and Google, which have invested significant resource into the design of the hardware powering their datacentres, declined to comment on this story.

“For Microsoft I can see how the move for them is quite positive, but Google and Amazon I’m not entirely convinced. Their battleground is going to be the cloud / hosting market where organisations are going to put an increasing number of their apps in a hybrid or public cloud model,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in cloud but we’re still not seeing a move of the big core systems, we certainly see this happening – but in the next two to four years, not in the short term, and I don’t think enterprises are at the point where they’re having discussions around whether a provider builds to OCP spec. So there’s no immediate pressure on Google and Amazon, but I suspect they’re looking at this quite closely,” he concluded.