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Penguin Computing to make Open Compute servers

And apparently a lot more money, thanks to Zuck & Co.

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Linux server and cluster maker Penguin Computing is a member of the Open Compute Project started by Facebook to create open source data center gear, and now it is an official "solution provider".

This means that Penguin now has OCP's official blessing to make and sell integrated systems based on the motherboard and system designs that other OCP members cook up, and that it has met the manufacturing criteria to be able to put the OCP label on the machines.

Penguin CEO Charles Wuischpard tells El Reg that his company decided late last year to go big with OCP iron, and to join Hyve Solutions, part of Synnex, and Avnet, one of the largest electronics and IT distributors in the world, to provide integrated solutions based on OCP specs.

Quanta and Tyan, which have been tapped to make custom motherboards for Facebook and other suppliers, also make OCP machinery. And it stands to reason that as the open source hardware gains traction and more designs become available, more system makers will jump into the OCP fray.

Not everyone can use the stock Facebook designs, which come with their own custom Open Rack and power distribution and battery units, and which are tied very tightly to the custom data centers that Facebook has built. Some companies cannot easily ditch 19-inch racks and want some of the benefits of the "vanity free" OCP designs without having to gut their data center or build a new one. And that's where companies like Penguin will come in, helping tweak OCP designs to fit into existing data centers.

"The world is changing, and coupled with some of the work we have done with ARM-based servers, we just want to be at the front end of these changes," says Wuischpard – and the official designation by OCP means that Penguin can sell machines into Facebook itself.

But there is more to it than that.

Penguin has always been a peddler of Linux-based machines, and believes strongly in open source software, and is naturally also a big fan of nascent open source hardware. And, as it turns out, so are some companies that are doing proofs of concept and writing RFPs for Open Compute servers. And, says Wuischpard, more than a few of them are looking at putting CentOS and OpenStack on these devices to create as open a cloud platform as they possibly can.

Since January, Penguin has been selling a system called the Altus OCP32 that is based on the "Roadrunner" motherboard cooked up by AMD, and has been building systems based on Intel's "Decathlete" board that was similarly part of the Open Compute V2 system rollout for the past year. Penguin has also adapted the "Windmill" Open Compute V3 server, and is selling it as the Relion OCP2830; both machines put three servers side-by-side into a single chassis.

Penguin has not yet decided if it will do its own OCP server designs and donate them back to the community, and for now is contributing by tweaking existing designs for specific customers.

In a server market that is about as flat as a pancake, Wuischpard is quite proud of the fact that Penguin's revenues were up 30 per cent in the first quarter compared to Q1 2012, and that they are on track to grow another 35 per cent or so in the second quarter. Neither Gartner nor IDC have yet released their first quarter server stats, but they are expected any day now.

The interesting bit is how much OCP iron Penguin thinks it can shift now that it is an official "solution provider". (What's wrong with calling them system makers or box builders? Just a thought, OCP. You don't have to use the vague language of IT marketing.)

"Our estimation is that OCP could be 40 per cent of our business within the next twelve months," Wuischpard says, "if not more."

That assumes that HP and Dell don't get all gung-ho about Open Compute machinery. And if they see Penguin making money, they just might have no choice but to embrace open hardware, no matter how much they want to sell their own designs. ®

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