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Can Open Hardware Transform the Data Center?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the more-than-meets-the-eye dept.

Hardware 41

1sockchuck writes "Is the data center industry on the verge of a revolution in which open source hardware designs transform the process of designing and building these facilities? This week the Open Compute Project gained momentum and structure, forming a foundation as it touted participation from IT heavyweights Intel, Dell, Amazon, Facebook, Red Hat and Rackspace. That turnout is not an isolated event, but reflects a growing focus on collaborative projects to reduce cost, timelines and inefficiency in data center construction and operation. The Open Compute project is just one of a handful of initiatives to bring standards and repeatable designs to IT infrastructure."

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41 comments

facebook (1)

hey (83763) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885008)

Ironic that Facebook (The walled garden company) is behind this.

Re:facebook (1)

justforgetme (1814588) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885030)

In terms of hardware application and design they have actually been quite forthcoming. Unlike, say, Google who had you guessing about anything related to their infrastructure for a decade.

As a SW platform yes they are a walled garden (sort of).

Re:facebook (4, Informative)

SharkLaser (2495316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885052)

I don't really see how Facebook is a walled garden company. Yes, they don't open up their own most important platform, but if that makes them walled garden company then Google is too. They both do, however, contribute large amounts of code and side-projects (especially in high performance web services side), and Facebook goes even further and opens up their datacenter infrastructure too. Like you said, Google keeps that secret.

You may not like Facebook's other practices, but they do actually contribute a lot to open source. Much more than any other company.

Re:facebook (2)

justforgetme (1814588) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885136)

I don't know about the general consensus on this but when I refer to Facebook as being a walled garden I am actually referring to the way people use it. they go in there, produce content (discussions, status updates, wall posts links, fan pages and most importantly: trends) and the rest of the Internet doesn't really get a whif of all that happening. Now at this point a lot of people would get started on privacy theories but the fact that matters is that applications like facebook take the Internet and turn it into an intranet. That in the long term is degenerative for the Internet and quite dangerous to communicational freedom actually. Now I won't go the route proclaiming that I don't use introversial social platforms because I do use them, since they work but I really don't think that the wide adoption of them is a productive thing. The Internet was much more productive when everybody had his personal blog.

Re:facebook (1)

SharkLaser (2495316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885308)

Apart from fan pages (which can be public too), most people use it as a private communication tool, just like discussions on MSN Messenger and other IM networks, and even phone. IRC applies too if the channels are private, but there are lots of private channels and private messages too. For example those discussions have never been public unless someone participating them published them - usually against everyone else's wishes. Facebook is just continutation to that.

If people are more interested in discussion with people they don't know, then they set up blog, go to Reddit or even Slashdot or whatever their niche is. There are plenty of public forums too. Both fill a different need.

Re:facebook (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885146)

"Walled Garden" applies to platforms, not companies.

Re:facebook (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885876)

Walled garden : You put content in, you can't get it out. It has content it will not share and not allow anyone else from benefiting. It has nothing to do with the use of OSS or open hardware. Facebook could run on open cores, with linux and publishing their source code, it would still be a walled garden as long as they would consider the content uploaded by their users as their own property.

Re:facebook (2)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37886814)

That is not what a walled garden is. A walled garden is exactly what the metaphor says it is: a wonderful place to be, but there are walls. Keeping others out, but also you in. And you don't have the keys to the gate. Someone else acts as the gatekeeper on your behalf. In computer terms, that means the platform is locked down, and to do anything, it must be first approved by The Management.

It is different from jail because, being a garden, the user/prisoner doesn't really mind it so much and maybe even likes it. A gated community is great until you piss off the homeowner's association.

Re:facebook (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37891594)

[Facebook] has content it will not share and not allow anyone else from benefiting.

You're delusional. I'm sure they're sharing some of that content with their customers. It's Facebook's business model.

YOU'RE THE PRODUCT, NOT THE CUSTOMER! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885382)

Sorry, I just had to get that out there, before some idiot brought it up. While we're at it:

CLOUD COMPUTING!

DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION!

CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

That should just about do it. Now we can have some intelligent discussion.

Security, finally. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885066)

Could certainly take away from the potential backdoors and other vulnerabilities that seem to fall in the favour of those countries manufacturing many proprietary chipsets. Nobody can quite explain how China manages to penetrate even the most locked down networks (many theories on exploits appear but few can be simulated). Backdoors built in as artificial network latency and other relatively undetectable methods would be hard to include when the hardware itself is completely open source. A win for everyone and a move away from the seemingly unavoidable TPM movement.

Not for everyone (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885076)

A big difference to Open Source software is in the cost of the manufacturing equipment. Where you can get a nice PC for programming for $1000, including screen, chip manufacturing hardware is a lot more expensive. The Open Graphics project, for instance, is still looking for investors to make an ASIC version possible. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Graphics_Project [wikipedia.org]

That will exclude those hobbyists who just want to tinker with the design a bit. Only the most determined, who are willing to embark on a multi-year project, have a chance of getting somewhere. And companies with plenty of money, of course.

Re:Not for everyone (1)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885450)

A big difference to Open Source software is in the cost of the manufacturing equipment.

True, but if you read TFA this is about big-iron firms on the Facebook/Google scale who are engaged in building humungous scale-able data centers and are already being forced to design their own custom solutions and pay to have them manufactured in quantity.

The problem with (say) the Open Graphics Project is that it duplicates the functionality of already available products, produced in vast numbers and developing at a rapid pace, with its only advantage being truly and usefully GPL'd drivers - an admirable aim but not one associated with large volumes of extra sales! Sorry, RMS, but most punters are going to buy something from AMD or Nvidia and live with the stigma of a binary driver. Plus, its ultimately dependent on custom silicon which is only remotely economical in large quantities (I don't think the data center people go below the motherboard level, and a lot of it is about PSUs, racking, cabling and cooling systems).

Poor Technology (2, Interesting)

scharman (308566) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885092)

How about we actually stop the insanity that promulgates the need for the insanely sized data centers? Use smart caching, java applets and just send business logic via the connection instead of the bloated insanity of html. Instead of shoe-horning an intentionally stateless 'square peg' protocol into the 'round hole' actually go with something rational. Then your data servers only need to deal with business logic and you farm out more of your processing requirements to clients. (aka the rational approach). I despair when I see what applets (irrespective of the language - just the general concept) could have provided us and where we are now in 2012.
(P.S. I can spell, honest! It's just UK engrish)

Re:Poor Technology (1)

SharkLaser (2495316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885214)

Yes, because I really want to install Java Applets when browsing to any site on the internet!

Re:Poor Technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885414)

People who can't differentiate beetwen general concept and specifik implementation shouldn't really bother replying on /.

Re:Poor Technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37888312)

AC because I can't comment at work with a login. You essentially 'install' sites every day. It's called cached web pages. Except instead of doing it once, you reinstall it every single time you go to the site - that's freaking genius! The concept of a sandbox system is in a lot of ways what HTML really is, however it's just a retarded implementation. HTML5 and the grab bag of tools that have turned an essentially trivial task (ie. serve user information) have turned the entire thing into a complicated bloated mess. Score one for technology.

Re:Poor Technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885218)

LOL you have no idea! Very large companies are much much bigger than their farms of web servers.

You may think you know better, but trust me I work with some of the biggest and brightest names and what they do on a day to day basis the rest of the Internet hasn't seen the likes of yet.

Re:Poor Technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885412)

Not a great handle on web technology eh? I bet your mom tells everyone you are a computer wiz.

Re:Poor Technology (1)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885428)

"just send business logic via the connection instead of the bloated insanity of html."

That would be good but I don't see how this would reduce datacenter size since you should compute again your business logic again at the datacenter.

Javascript, not java applets (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885446)

This is largely what is already in place, though the web has long since gone mobile and your client systems are mobile phones with limited battery life, limited CPU and display capabilities.

You also need "architects" who are not complete morons.

There are also problems with trust etc, the client cannot be trusted once it's running on the user's computer which means your protocols are opened up to inspection and your servers potentially to abuse.
 

Re:Poor Technology (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37886844)

I think the lesson has been learned that people don't like downloading clients to their computers. What it saves in datacenter resources gets eaten up by millions of people downloading clients to their machines and in greater support costs. The whole point of the web is that you can get whatever you want from whatever client platform you are on.

Re:Poor Technology (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | more than 2 years ago | (#37887924)

yes just prior to doing my fist www project in 1994 - I worked on a traditional client server using oracle to install our application we had to physically go on site and install 16 different floppy disks - took 2 of us 2 days to install 6 machines.
I remember commenting to my Boss after the end of the www project about how the it could save huge amounts of money in deployment.

How is this different from Reference Designs? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885272)

How is this different from using reference designs, blueprints, and best practices?

Or are we only calling it "open source" so software weenies will think they know what's going on?

Best leave the real engineering to real engineers.

Re:How is this different from Reference Designs? (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885374)

Obviously, a big difference can be in the license terms. Can you legally change the reference designs, re-distribute the result without paying royalties and allow the recipient to do the same?

If yes, you have the equivalent of Open Source in software.

If no, then there is a difference and "open source hardware" is actually something new.

Re:How is this different from Reference Designs? (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885426)

Yes, you can fiddle with the position of rackmount holes and the like to your hearts content. You just won't be able to fit it into a standard rack, which is sort of the point.

Re:How is this different from Reference Designs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37885716)

LOL! License terms?!?!?!

Get with the real world! It's obvious you have no clue what building data centers is all about.

It's real engineering. The only licensing involved might be getting your PE, but that depends on your local building codes.

Leave the real engineering to real engineers. Software weenies need not apply.

Re:How is this different from Reference Designs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37886838)

What's with the faux-hardware/software nerd rivalry for?
You're all equally geeks, and in an indirect way, wouldn't have work to do without each other being around.

Re:How is this different from Reference Designs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37887620)

Go ahead and write your own OS in C, then. Oh, whoops, software guys did that. Have fun debugging a 64-bit real-time multitasking kernel in ASM, faggot.

Re:How is this different from Reference Designs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37892846)

Poor software weenie. You mad, bro?

Re:How is this different from Reference Designs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37893278)

A real engineer designing a data center has little use software beyond what the normal person uses. Engineers have been constructing structures long before software hit the scene.

Compete (1)

Bengie (1121981) | more than 2 years ago | (#37885974)

Data Centers care about efficiency and processing density. Can open hardware currently compete?

X86 / X86-64 is easy to update / replace / find pa (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37886182)

As all that changes is the chipset drivers / drivers for other stuff on the MB.

The APP / OS code does not need to be changed to go from let's say corei3 to corei5 or say intel to AMD (Same x86-64 code base)

Can open hw transform a DC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37887038)

No.

Nobody that has ever actually worked inside a data center is really so stupid are they? Well, perhaps some of the local staff, but usually not the vendors ... usually. There are always exceptions.

it's a great start (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37887148)

Can it? Yes..

While we might not use a Facebook triple rack built exactly to the drawings. We will be building a prototype out of 80/20 and fully expect to feed technical details back into the project.

It works if you are dealing only in commodity HW (2)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 2 years ago | (#37887360)

At a commodity level it is simply about who has the biggest distribution channel and who can get the stuff made for the lowest cost, probably somewhere in China. Since it is all commodity stuff there really isn't a secret about drivers, firmware or manufacturing.

Move up the scale a little bit to real managed servers with fault-tolerant redundant parts and real diagnostics and you have left the commodity vendors behind. And now there is a considerable value difference between Vendor A's approach and Vendor B's approach. You also have the situation where Vendor A's stuff integrates well with Vendor C but not Vendor B.

Google set a somewhat different standard for building a data center and doing it totally with commodity hardware. Cheap commodity hardware. As far as I know, this example has not been replicated by anyone large. I suspect a significant portion of Google's effort in building a data center this way was dealing with non-fault-tolerant hardware and systems with no management and/or diagnostics. It means stuff is going to go down at random times and you just have to deal with it by pulling the whole unit. I guess it works for them. I suspect most other data center level operations really aren't run as a distributed cluster where the cluster is fault-tolerant but the pieces are not. We are still pretty much at the beginning of clustering and fault-tolerant systems with complete fallover support as far as the mainstream is concerned.

Understand that if a company is supplying nothing but commodity hardware (think the low end of Dell), they can be immediately replaced with any other commodity supplyer. Which is why Dell is getting out of the commodity PC business - there is no value proposition in it. On the other hand, Dell supplying servers which are not commodity hardware but using lots of custom parts and firmware means (a) they can supply much higher value to the data center and (b) they are not easily replaced by competitors that do not have matching parts and firmware. Making that level of hardware "open" is suicide because then you have turned your high value hardware into a commodity with no value at all.

Re:It works if you are dealing only in commodity H (1)

ista (71787) | more than 2 years ago | (#37900056)

Understand that if a company is supplying nothing but commodity hardware (think the low end of Dell), they can be immediately replaced with any other commodity supplyer. Which is why Dell is getting out of the commodity PC business - there is no value proposition in it. On the other hand, Dell supplying servers which are not commodity hardware but using lots of custom parts and firmware means (a) they can supply much higher value to the data center and (b) they are not easily replaced by competitors that do not have matching parts and firmware. Making that level of hardware "open" is suicide because then you have turned your high value hardware into a commodity with no value at all.

Out of many server suppliers, exactly Dell actually is supplying commodity server hardware and their boxes can easily be replaced by about any kind of vendor.
Dell is taking a few things of what's being sold on the market, do "customize" (brand) its firmware and that's it. And what they're actually replacing usually sucks (e.g. their BIOS) or is somehow outdated and just a little buggy. For example, a colleague of mine did fix a couple of DELL raid controller issues just by downloading official LSI firmware onto those controllers using LSI's linux tools. Of course, we're loosing Dell's support, but in the end - do you prefer "full vendor support" or not loosing your data?

The only thing which isn't completely "commodity" are some spare parts, like power supplies, fans or hard drive trays.
However, Dell's controllers usually don't mind if you replace the dell-branded hard disk by a non-dell-branded hard disk.

Even DELL's kind of out-of-band-management called DRAC isn't that special. If you're not the serial console type of guy and don't like whatever level of IPMI is implemented on e.g. some Supermicro board, you may take a look at AMI's MegaRAC line of products, which coincidentally does have a lot of similarities to DRAC. If I remember correctly, that DELL 2950 I've been evaluating back in 2000 did have a full-length MegaRAC PCI card.
However, even today's DRAC is based upon IPMI, so even in this case it's not that an issue to replace some Dell box by any kind of decent server hardware.

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