Cutting Data Center Building Costs With Open Source Servers

Savio Rodrigues By Savio Rodrigues
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The Open Compute Project Foundation recently announced results from Facebook’s attempts to build an efficient data center at the lowest possible cost. The foundation claims to have reduced the cost of building a data center by 24 percent, and improved ongoing efficiency by 38 percent versus state of the art data centers.

Open Compute Project design specifications
The Open Compute Project foundation released design specifications for servers and data center technology earlier this week.

The servers themselves fit into a chassis that is slightly taller than a 1.5U standard server chassis. The servers can use either an Intel or AMD motherboard. The v2.0 Intel specification provides double the compute density as v1.0 using two next generation Sandy Bridge based Intel processors per board. The v2.0 AMD specification also doubles the compute density with support for two AMD G34 Mangy Cours or Interlagos processors per board.

Open Compute servers are racked into three adjoining 42U racks, dubbed Triplets. Each rack column contains 30 Open Compute Project servers, for a total of 90 servers per Triplet. Each rack column has two top of rack switches.

A battery pack rack cabinet sits between a pair of Triplets providing DC power in the event of loss of AC power.

Bringing deep data center engineering skills to the masses
By releasing the cost savings figures, and more importantly, the underlying hardware specifications for the motherboards, power supply and chassis, the foundation hopes to bring efficiency and lower cost data centers to companies that don’t have the engineering depth of companies such as Facebook, Google, or Amazon.

Facebook deserves kudos for their work on the project. Getting together a board of directors including Andy Bechtolsheim from Arista Networks, Don Duet from Goldman Sachs, Mark Roenigk from Rackspace and Jason Waxman from Intel couldn’t have been easy. Although, cost reduction and efficiency figures upwards of 20 percent must have attracted attention from prospective board members and the long list of hardware, software and institutional partners, including the likes of Dell, Intel, Huawei, Red Hat, Netflix, and North Carolina Sate University, to name but a few.

Nothing to sell here? Ok, but where’s the certification?
At the Open Compute Project Summit this week, Andy Bechtolsheim was quoted saying “Open Compute Foundation is not a marketing org. There’s nothing to sell here”.

While the foundation has nothing to sell, it’s critical that hardware vendors quickly release Open Compute Project certified hardware. There isn’t a certification process for hardware as yet, but this is something the foundation needs to work on immediately.

As GigaOM reports, “when the effort launched in April Dell and Hewlett-Packard both showed off servers that incorporated some of the elements of Open Compute.” The term “some elements” should be worrisome to the Open Compute Project and to potential buyers. Otherwise “Open Compute Project based” hardware will proliferate without any standard comparison across vendor offerings as vendors rush to take advantage of the Open Compute Project’s buzz with existing offerings under a different marketing banner.

Silicon Mechanics, a rack mount server manufacturer and member of the Open Compute foundation, announced an Open Compute Triplet based on the Open Compute Project specifications. A 90 compute node Triplet with entry level processors, RAM and disk and without any operating system or software starts at $287,755 and can grow to $2 million and above.

Good progress so far, more work to do
In a post at Opencompute.org, Frank Frankovsky, Director of Technical Operations at Facebook and Chairman/President of the Open Compute Project foundation wrote “? what began a few short months ago as an audacious idea – what if hardware were open? – is now a fully formed industry initiative, with a clear vision, a strong base to build from and significant momentum. We are officially on our way.”

Yes, the Open Compute Project foundation is officially on its way.

You’re encouraged to read through the design specification and compare to your current or future data center plans. However, until the Open Compute Project foundation comes out with a certification process, buyers are urged to ask vendors which parts of the product align with the Open Compute Project specifications and which parts are outside of the specifications. In some ways, it’s buyer beware when it comes to products claiming to offer Open Compute Project-based products, for now at least.

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About Savio Rodrigues
Savio Rodrigues is a product manager with IBM's WebSphere Software division. He envisions a day when open source and traditional software live in harmony. This site contains Savio's personal views. IBM does not necessarily agree with the views expressed here.

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