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Facebook-led open compute project tackles network switches

Thor Olavsrud | May 9, 2013
Speaking at Interop today, Open Compute Project Chairman and President Frank Frankovsky announces plans for a new open source project to develop a specification and a reference box for an open, OS-agnostic switch.

A little more than two years ago, Facebook had a revolutionary idea: Inspired by the model of open source software, it would bring together a community-the Open Compute Project (OCP)-focused on the creation of open source hardware specifications for energy efficient and economical data centers.

Now OCP plans to expand its efforts by developing an alternative to the black-box switches that connect data centers to the outside world.

"Open source has clearly had a huge impact on the pace of innovation in software, and it's starting to have an impact on hardware as well," Frank Frankovsky, vice president of Hardware Design and Supply Chain at Facebook and chairman/president of the Open Compute Project Foundation, said during his keynote address at Interop here today.

"We are working together, in the open, to design and build smarter, more scalable, more efficient data center technologies-but we're still connecting them to the outside world using black-box switches that haven't been designed for deployment at scale and don't allow consumers to modify or replace the software that runs on them," he said.

"With that in mind," Frankovsky said, "we are today announcing a new project within OCP that will focus on developing a specification and a reference box for an open, OS-agnostic top-of-rack switch."

Facebook's Infrastructure an Open Book

In 2009, Facebook set a daunting challenge for a small team of its engineers: Figure out how to scale the company's massive computing infrastructure in the most efficient and economical way possible.

"Working out of an electronics lab in the basement of our Palo Alto, California, headquarters, the team designed our first data center from the ground up. A few months later we started building it in Prineville, Oregon," Jonathan Heiliger, vice president of Technical Operations at Facebook, wrote in 2011.

"The project," Heiliger wrote, "which started out with three people, resulted in us building our own custom-designed servers, power supplies, server racks and battery backup systems. Because we started with a clean slate, we had total control over every part of the system, from the software to the servers to the data center."

The result was Facebook's Prineville data center, which uses 38 percent less energy to do the same work as Facebook's existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less. In April 2011, Facebook decided that it needed to share what it had done.

It founded OCP and published the specifications and mechanical designs for the hardware used in its data center, including motherboards, power supply, server chassis, server rack and battery cabinets. It also shared its data center electrical and mechanical construction specifications.

Switching OCP's Focus

"It would be really unfortunate if the technology that's available to us was the limiting factor of the richness of the experience that we can deliver to users," Frankovsky says.


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