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Facebook’s Open Compute Project helps competitors build hyperscale data centres together

Steven Max Patterson | March 15, 2016
Facebook’s open source hardware development and procurement strategy grows with new competitors and new industries.

The conversion from free to paid registration and a spike in Open Compute Project Summit keynote attendance signaled that open hardware innovation is trending up. Summit attendees are companies like Facebook that buy land, build big data center buildings and fill them with commodity computing and networking hardware. Their mission is to build hyperscale, hyperefficient infrastructure that is flexible in handling workloads and agile in delivering new services in minutes.

Jason Taylor, OCP CEO, introduced Google’s Vice President of Infrastructure Urz Hölz as a surprise last OCP Summit keynote with Apple-like “wait there’s still more” showmanship. Hölz presented his team's open source hardware submissions, a new approach to powering the ocean of servers used in hyperscale web company data centers operated by Facebook and Google at a more power efficient 45V instead of 12V and a new rack design.

Hölz’s appearance represented old-fashioned Silicon Valley coopetition. Silicon Valley competitors have a long history of coopetition like this. Google and Facebook compete vehemently for mobile advertising revenues on the frontend but cooperate on the backend to improve data center efficiency.

Even bigger than Hölz and Google joining the OCP founded by Facebook, is the coopetition between competitors representing the financial services and telecom industries. Financial services were the first industry after the hyperscale web companies to identify infrastructure operations as a critical core competency. Goldman Sachs, Fidelity and Bank of America that compete on the front end for investors, depositors and loans collaborate through the OCP to build more efficient backend data centers.

Recent new additions to the OCP roster, monolithic telecom competitors, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom parent of T-Mobile and Verizon joined with the intention to collaborate with each other even though they are direct competitors. Network virtualization, automation, and cloud computing on the network edge are perquisites for the applications that will drive the next generation of 5G wireless. The telecoms don’t believe they can buy it from their traditional vendors or build it themselves without the cooperation of their competitors.

“Without the OCP umbrella it would be nearly impossible for competitors to hammer out legal agreements for individual collaborations,” said Taylor who is also Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure. OCP produces less friction and more speed and agility for open innovation between competitors within an industry.

Open source and open innovation has changed everything including hardware. The OCP is the manifestation of these trends in hardware. The OCP Summit is a traditional hardware conference where the conversation focuses on greater capacity, faster speeds, greener energy consumption and lower cost. But it’s also very different; instead of the manufacturers setting the pace of innovation, the OCP customers establish the metrics of innovation based on their own projected needs for increases in speeds and capacities and reductions in energy and cost.

 

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