Facebook-Driven Open Compute Project Grows Membership, Technologies

HP and Quanta are the latest to join the group, which at its conference also is showing off projects from the likes of Dell, Intel and AMD.

The Open Compute Project, started by Facebook a year ago to create open-source standards for highly energy-efficient data centers and IT hardware, is racking up new members and unveiling a host of projects as the group€™s third conference gets underway in San Antonio, Texas.

Hewlett-Packard and Quanta Computer reportedly are the latest vendors to join the project, which has seen an influx in membership over the past year, and the last six months in particular, according to Frank Frankovsky, vice president of hardware design and supply chain for Facebook and president and chairman of the Open Computing Project board of directors.

In a May 2 blog post on the project€™s Website, Frankovsky said that when Facebook open-sourced its server and data center technologies in April 2011 under the project€™s name, €œwe weren€™t sure what to expect. It was our hope that we could inspire the industry to be a little more open, a little more innovative and a little more focused on energy efficiency.€

The growth has exceeded expectations, he wrote.

€œToday, as more than 500 people converge on San Antonio for the third OCP Summit, I think we can safely say that we€™ve already achieved much more than that,€ Frankovsky said. €œThe momentum that has gathered behind the project€”especially in the last six months€”has been nothing short of amazing.€

He also noted that it's an indication that tech companies are becoming less interested in pursuing products that simply differentiate themselves from their competitors and are interested in creating innovative designs that have real impacts on users.

The project has a growing cadre of top-tier tech vendors joining its ranks, including Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, HP, Dell, VMware, Salesforce.com and Canonical€”Frankovsky told BloombergBusinessweek that there also have been discussions with IBM€”and an expanding number of projects underway.

At the show, the Open Compute Project unveiled its Open Rack specifications for rack designs for hyperscale and high-performance computing (HPC) environments. OCP officials are hoping to merge the Open Rack spec with a similar one€”called €œProject Scorpio€€”that is being developed in China by Tencent and Baidu, he said. They hope to merge the two efforts next year.

Also at the event, executives with HP and Dell showed off new server and storage designs that will be compatible with the Open Rack specification. HP€™s dual-processor system, code-named Project Coyote, reportedly will use Xeon E5 processors and offer up to 50 percent in power savings. Dell€™s offerings, code-named Zeus, and an effort from the company€™s Data Center Solutions group, reportedly will enable users to run various servers and storage devices in the same Open Rack chassis.

At the same time, chip makers Intel and AMD are unveiling new energy-efficient motherboard designs aimed specifically at the financial services market. AMD€™s €œRoadrunner€ motherboard effort, which includes the company€™s Opteron 6000 chips, was designed by removing all unnecessary components, according to officials. The 16-inch by 16.5-inch motherboard is offered in two configurations, one for HPC environments and the other for general-purpose cloud infrastructures and storage servers.

The motherboard can support form factors between 1U and 3U in height, as well as traditional and Open Rack chasses.

€œBy working with the industry to move technology forward, rather than focusing on proprietary solutions, AMD has both strengthened and gained momentum through collaboration,€ Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of AMD€™s Global Business Units, said in a statement. €œMoreover, the €˜Roadrunner€™ board is highly flexible and can be configured to support general-purpose, cloud, high-performance compute and storage processing workloads.€

Intel€™s effort is called €œDecathlete,€ according to Frankovsky.

Facebook engineers three years ago started designing their own servers using standard off-the-shelf technologies. Until then, the social networking giant had been using traditional systems from OEMs. Facebook worked with Intel and AMD and systems makers HP and Dell to create the custom servers. The company was looking to create systems that offer the needed performance while driving down capital, power and cooling costs in its densely populated data centers.

During the Supercomputing 2011 show last fall, Amir Michael, hardware design manager at Facebook, told eWEEK the company was interested in seeing the Open Compute Project grow its reach beyond data center and server specs to tackle everything from systems management, storage and I/O. At the same time, he said Facebook already was moving forward with the next generation of the custom servers.