For years, knowledgeable companies have had product marketing and engineering teams gather input from existing and potential customers’ engineering teams to define requirements for new products. The process involved plenty of dialogue with target users to identify the problem and develop a solid set of product requirements.
The Internet is enabling a new way of defining products that makes much of this interaction more collaborative with a broader audience.
Facebook’s Open Compute Project (OCP) is a prime example of what can happen if a user opens the door to ideas for ways to solve computing problems. A small team of Facebook engineers undertook the challenge of creating a scalable computing infrastructure that would be the most efficient and economical design possible. The project resulted in Facebook building its own custom-designed servers, power supplies, server racks, and battery backup systems. The company started with a clean slate to exert total control over every aspect of the system, from the software to the servers to the data center.
The resulting Prineville data center uses 38 percent less energy to accomplish the same work as Facebook’s existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less. When the design team realized they might not have gotten everything right, they opened the technology to the world by forming the OCP Foundation in 2011.
The OCP Foundation is a rapidly growing community of engineers around the world whose mission is to design and enable the delivery of the most efficient server, storage, and data center hardware designs for scalable computing. The OCP Foundation provides a structure in which individuals and organizations can share their Intellectual Property with Open Compute Projects.
Several projects are underway in the areas of storage, networking, open racks, data centers, and hardware management that are all tied together through a certification project that addresses interoperability concerns. Facebook is contributing a new common slot architecture specification for motherboards. This specification – nicknamed “Group Hug” – can be used to produce boards that are completely vendor-neutral and will last through multiple processor generations.
OCP Foundation membership comprises both individual contributors who have a passion for data centers and corporations that are heavily vested in data center technology. Meetings are public and posted on the website ().
The organization has strong principles that drive the direction of community efforts:
- The technologies behind data centers are understood by their users – they know what they need and want, and can innovate. Collaboration between these users and technology developers is the best way to openly create and develop opportunities for innovation in this space.
- The organization endeavors to enable the development of the most efficient servers, storage, and data center infrastructure from a useful work per total cost perspective, bringing computing to users at the lowest cost and widest distribution.
- All infrastructure technology and energy consumption (renewable and non-renewable) has environmental impact, which should be minimized whenever possible.
- The base designs that emerge from this project should be freely implemented and improved upon by any and all.
- Open-source software and hardware democratize access to the best server, storage, and data center technologies available. This project concentrates on open technologies that can be multisourced.
- Community benefit for all participants – contributors, consumers, and technology suppliers – is critical to accelerate innovation and maximize opportunity throughout the OCP community.
- Interoperability and compliance are crucial for scaling effectiveness. Collaboration with industry standards bodies helps balance modularity and customization as needed.
- Transparency of processes, including communications, promotes participation, respect, honesty, and trust.
The aggressive goals and principles of the OCP Foundation are gaining traction in this era of worldwide collaboration. An open invitation is extended to anyone interested in joining the group’s mission to collectively develop the most efficient computing infrastructure possible.
Existing standards organizations are in a great position to take advantage of this trend, as they already have the collaborative blood in their systems. However, there is much room for improvement in using today’s Internet technology for improving the efficiency of the process. The trend of open collaboration is only going to strengthen, as tools become more natural to use for new projects and new generations of engineers raised on collaboration projects enter the workplace.