October 28, 2011

While open source software has been well established for years and has been successful in driving application innovation, hardware hasn't taken advantage of the open source movement. Until now.

Noticing that hardware innovation has lagged advances in software, Facebook along with a handful of other users and technology suppliers launched the Open Compute Project in April of this year. OCP is a group that is working to design and enable the delivery of the most efficient server, storage and data center hardware designs for scalable computing.

At the second Open Compute Project Summit today in New York City, Facebook announced the formation of a foundation that will lead the Open Compute Project (OCP) going forward.

OCP also announced an initial slate of directors and advisers that includes Don Duet, managing director and head of Global Technology Infrastructure, Compliance Technology and Market Risk Technology at Goldman Sachs, as well as Andy Bechtolsheim from Arista Networks, Frank Frankovsky from Facebook, Mark Roenigk from Rackspace and Jason Waxman from Intel.

"The pace of innovation in open source software has far outpaced the pace of innovation in hardware," said Frank Frankovsky (video), founding member of OPC and director, hardware design and supply chain at Facebook. After building its own data center from the ground up, Facebook realized that the technology available on the market was not efficient enough to build a world-class data center. Without common standards and specifications, technology providers were making it difficult for enterprise users to build data centers that are efficient and scalable.

"Open system standard levels are lacking," said Andy Bechtolsheim, chief development officer at Arista Networks during the event. "There is a wide range of products with 'gratuitous differentiation.' This helps vendors more than customers." As a result, the largest companies, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo have built their own servers because they did not want to get locked in to a particular vendor's specifications. However, most companies can't afford to build their own equipment, Bechtolsheim added.

For enterprise users that run their own data centers, as many large financial firms do, the OCP may help increase efficiency, reduce confusion over differing designs, and reduce cost. "We build a lot of our own technology, but we are not at the hyperscale of Google or Facebook," said Goldman Sachs' Duet. "We are a mid-scale company with a large global footprint. The work done by the OCP has the potential to lower the TCO [total cost of ownership] and we are extremely interested in that."

Goldman Sachs, as an enterprise user, differs from the other OCP foundation members that could all be classified as technology providers. "We are in a business that is highly regulated and must have highly availability," Duet said. As an enterprise user, Goldman Sachs will be able to help OCP navigate some of the issues that large enterprises face when it comes to balancing regulations, high availability, and the desire for efficient hardware technology.

Goldman Sachs also has some thing the other members of OCP do not have: age, added Facebook's Frankovsky. Goldman has many decades worth of technology, which is often hard to manage. "Older companies have a multi-generational problem when it comes to technology," Frankovsky said. "They have a lot of things to do. It is great to have Goldman Sachs' expertise as part of the project." Facebook, Amazon and most other Internet companies have only one generation of technology and currently aren't burdened by legacy architectures, Frankovsky added. "One day we will be facing some of the same issues that Don faces today."

Some of the members of OCP include hardware suppliers Intel, ASUS, Dell, Mellanox, and Huawei; software suppliers Red Hat, Cloudera and Future Facilities; enablers DRT, Hyve (Synnex), Nebula, Baidu, and Silicon Mechanics; and enterprise users/consumers Facebook, Mozilla, Rackspace, Netflix, NTT Data, Tivit, the ODCA, and Goldman Sachs. Participating from an educational institution perspective are Georgia Tech University and North Carolina State University.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology.