Open Hardware Movement Changing the Game for IT Vendors, Enterprises

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2015-06-30 Print this article Print
Open Hardware

There were three key drivers for starting the OCP, according to Jonathan Heiliger, a onetime Facebook official who now is a venture capitalist with Vertex Ventures.

It became clear that designing data center hardware in unison with applications could lead to greater efficiencies, as proven by the work Google was doing. "We stood on the shoulders of their ideas to imagine a new path," Heiliger wrote in a recent post on the Vertex blog.

In addition, cost savings were important given that hardware vendors were reluctant to reduce prices much, he wrote. Also, "everyone builds software using all kinds of weird techniques. Why not hardware? We believed other companies had similar challenges and by sharing our inventions with the world, it would inspire other companies to collaborate," Heiliger wrote.

The collaboration aspect is an important one for the OCP. Both King and Moorhead said they were unsure how much demand there has been for OCP systems. More likely companies are taking designs being developed through the program and modifying them to suit their specific needs, Moorhead said.

The Open Compute Project's influence has been in helping shape the discussion around open hardware and showing how such collaboration can work, he said, comparing the group's impact on open hardware to what Google has done in software. It also is enabling hardware developers to leave the confines of their respective vendors to work together on technologies and designs that will have a larger impact in the industry. Dell's Gorakhpurwalla agreed.

"The real benefit [to OCP] is the collaboration effect and education effect," he said.

King said the OCP also has helped drive other open hardware efforts, such as IBM's OpenPower group, which is designed to enable third-party developers to leverage the Power architecture and move it into new areas.

"Open Compute is a really interesting concept," he said. "It's worthwhile. When Facebook started it a few years ago, it was really a precursor to other projects."

It's also not the only place where vendors are working on more open systems and collaborating with others, HP's Gromala and Dell's Gorakhpurwalla said. Trends like greater mobility, the cloud, big data analytics and software-defined everything are changing how businesses are looking at their infrastructures and how vendors are building them.

Gromala noted the work HP is doing with Accton on the networking side as an example. In addition, the HP's Moonshot server modules can run a variety of operating systems and can be powered by either x86 chips or ARM-based processors.

Both Gromala and Gorakhpurwalla pointed to their companies' focus on using industry-standard technologies in their systems as examples of their efforts to create more open products. Gorakhpurwalla said he equates industry standards with openness.

When vendors adopt such standards as x86 computing, SAS, Fibre Channel, PCI-Express and DDR4 memory, "you come to the point where you have an open platform for everyone to innovate."

It's what Dell does with its servers as well as through its Open Networking initiative, where the company offers switches that can run third-party software, such as Cumulus' networking OS, Big Switch Networks' software-defined networking (SDN) technology and Midokura's network virtualization offerings.


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