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Don’t want a footie-field-size data centre? No problem (or is there?)

Looking deeper into Facebook's OCP promises

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Open Compute has generally been a playground for super-large, cloud-scale service providers to play in. Unless you’ve got a data centre the size of a footy field, the general consensus has been that it isn’t for the likes of you.

As it gradually gains traction among non-cloud service providers, though, there’s a question to answer: will it ever appeal to small and medium-sized businesses? The president of the Open Compute Foundation seems to think so.

Facebook first rolled out the Open Compute Project back in 2011, to demonstrate its “awesomeness” at running large data centres effectively.

Since then, the non-profit Foundation backing the project has been quietly courting large, hyperscale computing users, promoting its designs to help them run a tight ship.

Focusing primarily on server equipment in the first instance, the project created a standard for designing stripped-down, efficient systems that could be installed en masse, making the most of the energy and cooling resources available.

There was a motherboard design specification, and a rack designed to maximize computing density.

Things are changing, though, according to Corey Bell, who just took the reins as CEO of the Open Compute Foundation. He wants more companies on board, including smaller firms.

“When we first started the project, it was started by some of the larger hyperscale guys, like Facebook,” he admits. “Any movement has to be driven by the large guys, but the wake is going to be fit for everybody, because the change is something that everyone can take on. Our focus is to make it universal for everyone.”

All aboard

More recently, larger enterprises that don’t operate in the hyperscale cloud, service-provider space have been joining the Open Compute movement. At its March summit, it announced several converts from the financial services industry.

Bank of America has said it will convert its data centre to Open Compute, while Capital One And JP Morgan Chase also jumped on board. Goldman Sachs execs has said 70 per cent of new servers will be Open Compute-based by the end of this year.

However, Goldman Sachs runs half a million-processor cores in its facilities, meaning that the five per cent saving in total energy consumption it has seen is worthwhile. But why would small businesses be interested in this?

AMD tried to answer that question in an article penned for Techradar last summer. One of the main arguments is around open-sourcing hardware.

The companies behind Open Compute are experts at shaving inefficiencies from computing. If they are offering these hardware specs for others to use, why wouldn’t SMBs take advantage, AMD asked? They can take hardware from multiple vendors produced to these specifications, and ensure that they will work as expected when plugged into the river structure, Bell argued.

The other big win for small businesses could be in hardware management, he suggested. Open Compute produces its own hardware management spec, meaning that SMBs can use the same management software across different vendors’ hardware builds.

That all sounds rather utopian. So, is Open Compute drawing any interest from small businesses? Not much, say analysts.

“The technician loves what Open Compute is doing, but they have made decisions that make it more challenging,” said Stephen Hill, senior analyst for data centre solutions at technical advisory firm Current Analysis, such as "opting for a 21-inch rack design, rather than the industry standard 19-inch rack".

Open Compute has a specification for the racks into which equipment based on its design would fit. These are different to the conventional standard for data centre racks, which date all the way back to telephone switching equipment. Unless your data centre supports racks of this size, it would make the transition far more expensive.

Having said that, Synnex subsidiary Hyve did create a design to fit Open Compute-inspired server designs into a 19-in rack, and contributed those designs to the open-source project in late 2013. And Microsoft also contributed the Open CloudServer spec, a chassis system that uses 19-inch racks, to the Open Compute project. Penguin Computing, too, designs AMD-based Open Compute-specced systems for a 19-inch rack. So there are options.

There are other challenges, though, warns Aaron Sullivan, senior director and distinguished engineer for infrastructure strategy at Open Compute member Rackspace.

“Many Open Compute rack solutions are all (or mostly) front-side cabled. This can have some impact to data centre floor planning and operations planning in general,” he said, adding that there are fewer rack height and facility integration options for data centres needing very short or very tall racks.

“Open racks also tend to require high voltage DC input power, or three-phase AC input power,” he said. “Some data centres won’t support those options, or will require updated power distribution fit-out to support.” That may make colocation more difficult.

Next page: Different workloads

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