Initiated in 2011 by Facebook, the Open Compute Project brings together the big hitters of the IT world with a view to opening up and sharing Cloud-based data management.

Internet giants’ data centers to be managed in Open Source?

At the Open Compute Project Summitheld in San Jose, California this week, Microsoft, the traditional champion of proprietary software, announced that it is to join the Open Compute Project, offering as an ‘entrance fee’ its chassis designs for cloud storage servers. However, this strategy for joining forces to optimize Cloud technology has not found favor with all the main players.Amazonjealously guards the codes underpinning its data storage services while Google similarly refuses to lift the veil from the technology that is central to its operations. Nevertheless, the emergence of this open source coalition intended to facilitate information-sharing among the various players represents a major step towards a new industry paradigm, inspired by the ‘hacker’ philosophy, intended to restore service quality to the status of main competitive advantage.

Fostering information sharing

The purpose of the initiative, which was started by a handful of Silicon Valley players, spearheaded by Facebook and including IBM and California-based online file sharing and cloud content management service company Box, is to provide high quality integrated data storage infrastructure by removing the roadblock created by proprietary software and exclusive server and data center technologies. Microsoft’s decision to join the party will inject some fresh credibility into the project by encouraging information sharing between developers of Cloud servers and software.  Among the valuable assets that Microsoft is contributing to the process are the chassis designs for the servers that runWindows Azure, a high-performance Cloud storage platform, which will provide a real boost to the OCP. Microsoft will also be collaborating with the other members on several aspects of server management – including server diagnostics, power supply and fan control– sharing its Windows server designs which are reputedly 40% cheaper and provide 15% more in power efficiency gains. This sharing of protocols and APIs will make Microsoft the first Cloud leader to venture outside its traditional business model and experiment with Open Source management. Knowledge-sharing has already proved fruitful for the Open Compute Project’s founding members: Facebook announced that the OCP had enabled the firm to save close to $1.2 billion in infrastructure costs over three years.

Shifting the competitive advantage

This new strategy initiated by Facebook also corresponds to a change of paradigm in line with evolving business models and the increasing sophistication of services offered by Cloud software. Hardware, especially the fleet of servers racked up in data centers, no longer constitutes a decisive competitive advantage. In a global scenario where the cost of hardware is rapidly diminishing and the quality of the servers is no longer a differentiating factor, it is very much in the interests of market leaders to foster large-scale optimization of their data centers through a shared structure. Working together with other software developers is likely to bring a number of advantages for each of the members. Microsoft for example hopes to learn to fine-tune its software development to meet the needs of less specialized servers and thus compete more effectively in a market that is fast becoming mature. The dynamism that the Open Compute Project inspires could also give a nudge to the industry’s traditional players such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard by encouraging the manufacture of cheap, customizable servers.

By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst