October 03, 2013

On Wednesday evening at the NYC 2013 Iterop expo Information Week's Financial Services editorial director Greg MacSweeney moderated a panel titled Why You're Paying Too Much for Data Center Technology (And What You Can Do About It). The topic on hand was Open Compute, a project started at Facebook nearly two years ago with the mission of building the most efficient computing infrastructures at the lowest possible cost.

According to the website, "By releasing Open Compute Project technologies as open hardware, our goal is to develop servers and data centers following the model traditionally associated with open source software projects."

Originally scoffed at by the big tier names, who naturally relied on tier one solutions delivered by the traditional vendor route, you can imagine the intrigue of the audience as Matthew Liste, managing director of core infrastructure platforms at Goldman Sachs and Eric Wells, VP of data center services at Fidelity Investments spoke about their collaboration in the project (imagine that!) and the advantages of leveraging Open Compute's technologies.

Najam Ahmad, director of technical operations at Facebook was on the panel to discuss. "Facebook started to build an ecosystem that is kind of open, with the belief that open source environment provide for more agility, quicker innovation and actually solves problems in the space. This way, we're not necessarily tasked with reinventing the wheel in silos."

"Facebook was the founding and only member of Open Compute… We took some of the work we did in data, server, and mechanical designs and made them available to the industry… We're building an ecosystem where users come together to build technology, and actual hardware people can develop those solutions. It started a new community of sorts."

Now, about 1,500 people attend Open Compute summits and workshops to discuss storage racks and network research design. "Now the community is getting together, actual users, and talking about problems at a deeper component level and coming up with solutions," said Ahmad with pride.

Value in Community

Panelist seemed to agree that, at the start, Facebook's Open Compute was only for companies "like Facebook" and didn't apply to their corporations with legacy infrastructure. But, as Well's put it, "Facebook is is forced to innovate because of the scale, and solve problems that haven't been solved before, and there's a lot we can learn from that."

Wells adds, "We continue to collaborate because we are competing in very competitive markets. There's a lot of changing technology, and we need to change things going forward. Having the benefit of hearing how others are solving problems, that's the compelling part of Open compute. That's the power of it. It's available and it's a powerful hinge if you're a smaller or larger company as well."

Goldman's Liste said, "One of the benefits of open compute, from our perspective, was the fact that the power of the community is driving user driven design, versus having vendor driven design… We want to buy what we need, not what a vendor designs for us. Now we have the flexibility to contribute directly, as well as understanding of what we're operating."

Fidelity's Wells reflected, "Several years ago if you asked me if I would accept a non tier 1 solutions, I would have said no, given our conditions and culture, and our circumstances. Slowly we've started to change the culture in our organization, we've taken people to collaborate externally, and they were able to develop solutions… Like anything else there are early adopters, but it is also a culture change and it's well worth it." He also admits the word community is not something you usually associate with big organizations.

The fourth member of the panel, Peter Krey, founder and president of Krey Associates spoke further about companies transitioning from more traditional hardware to cloud solutions. He observed, "A lot of companies are hybrid. They're either just dipping a toe into cloud, but a lot have on premise requirements as well, and for that reason alone you can benefit from Open Compute for even just one rack. Understanding ecosystem, trends, what's emerging, and whatever type of cloud company you might be speaking to.. Knowing that and understanding emerging trends allows you to be more thoughtful in how you utilize it. That's a compelling reason to be involved in this space."

Najam concluded that as technology changes, ecosystem change. "Most fail to evolve fast enough to changes in technology, and changes have been the faster than it's ever been. How do companies keep up? Well, that's the opportunity here, to build ecosystem, to build services going forward."

Before joining UBM Becca served as Editor-In-Chief at Kapitall Wire, the sister site to an online brokerage firm that combines the challenges of the stock market with the thrill of ...