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Interop: Open Compute Project To Tackle Network Switching

Open Compute Project initiated by Facebook sets its sights on network switching as the next target for open innovation.

 Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour
Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Since Facebook kicked off the Open Compute Project by donating its overall data center design, the OCP Foundation has been chipping away at open sourcing designs for all of the critical components that go into the data center. Next up: network switches.

In a keynote speech at Interop, Facebook VP of hardware design and supply chain Frank Frankovsky reviewed two years of progress at expanding the scope of the project, which now includes open designs for server racks and cold storage designs based on how Facebook handles your old photos.

These designs are geared for very high performance and scalability, but also for energy efficiency. The industry average is that a data center will consume about 1.9 times as much electrical power as actually makes it to a server delivering compute services because of waste in the process, including electrical conversions and air conditioning demands. By minimizing the need for conversions and eliminating air conditioning, Facebook has been able to reduce that factor to about 1.07, Frankovsky said, which translates into an operational cost savings of about 38 percent. The design also reduced the capital expense budget by 24 percent.

[ For more on Frankovsky's Interop keynote, see Facebook's Frank Frankovsky: Open Compute Debate. ]

In addition to sharing its plans for how to build a cloud data center from scratch, Facebook has published optimizations from an earlier stage in its growth when it was doing "everything the landlord allowed" to maximize its use of colocation data center facilities. OCP has also come up with a rack design for colocation spaces. Those colocation designs have become some of the most popular OCP assets because they can be applied by many more companies, Frankovsky said.

As a company that has been heavily involved in using and contributing to open source software projects, Facebook wanted to see the same principles applied to hardware, Frankovsky said, as a way to "move forward the pace of innovation as fast as we can." Many other sorts of companies, such as financial services firms, have joined with the effort out of their own frustration that vendor product roadmaps don't always match their requirements as well as they could.

Hardware vendors who are beginning to see it's in their best interest to participate are starting to become some of the project's best contributors, Frankovsky said.

The networking layer of a data center operation has been the last on the list for OCP to tackle. That's starting to change, with Intel recently contributing an optical interconnect design for server racks and taking some preliminary steps toward open designs for software-defined networking. The last big empty spot on the architecture slide Frankovsky shared was an open design for network switches, which today are uniformly delivered as appliances with proprietary hardware and software.

You should be able to buy bare metal and program the switch to operate according to your specifications. Work on that next phase of the project will begin at an OCP engineering summitscheduled for May 16 at MIT.

Frankovsky invited members of the Interop crowd to contribute their own knowledge and requirements to making it a success. "The more people we get to work on these really hard problems, the better," he said. "Openness always wins."

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+.

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