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Knowing about Open Compute can help you make better decisions about your infrastructure

The Open Compute Project (OCP) is valuable to enterprise IT professionals because it embodies the best practices of companies that operate hyperscale computing systems. It’s not often that a business is willing to share information about the practices that are key to their competitiveness. Economical, efficient, and scalable infrastructure is crucial to the success of companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. By studying the Open Compute Project, you can learn about the best practices of computing at hyperscale, and determine which practices can be applied to improve your IT operations.

For years, hyperscale operators have been working directly with original device manufacturers (ODMs) to design and produce hardware that meets their unique needs. In 2012, Google claimed to be one of the largest hardware makers in the world, and had probably been in the server hardware business for years.  In 2011, Facebook started the Open Compute Project in an effort to standardize the design of servers and infrastructure for a hyperscale environment. The OCP releases open-source hardware specifications that can be implemented by any ODM. Key design goals include minimizing initial cost and power consumption, and maximizing interoperability and standardization. The hardware is designed to be “vanity-free,” meaning that it does not incorporate any features that are specific to a particular manufacturer. These design goals have led to some interesting departures from industry conventions.

Image of Open Rack
Open Rack

OCP servers are primarily intended to fit into the Open Rack (although 19” servers with OCP-compliant motherboards are now available). This rack has the same floor footprint as a standard 19” rack, but it is very different internally. The rack height is measured in “OpenU.” One OpenU is 48mm, while 1U in a 19” rack is 44.5mm. Three high-current, 12V DC power buses run down the back of the Open Rack. The rack is divided into three “power zones,” each with ten OpenU for system shelves. Each power zone has a 3-OpenU “power shelf” that supplies 4200W of power to the DC power busses in that zone. 2 OpenU at the top of each rack are reserved for a network switch.

OCP triplet server image
OCP triplet server

A typical OCP server is housed in a deep, narrow “system tray” that contains a motherboard with two CPUs, one hard drive, and fans. The rear of the tray has a power plug that fits into one of the DC power buses in the Open Rack. Three trays can fit side-by-side on a shelf that occupies one OpenU. Alternatively, OCP-compliant servers are available with four nodes in a 2-OpenU unit. OCP servers are capable of operating in an environment with a higher ambient temperature and higher humidity than a typical data center. This capability reduces the cooling requirements for the data center, increasing its energy efficiency and reducing operating costs. Facebook has also released open-source design specifications for its data centers through the Open Compute Project.

The Open Compute Project provides a rare inside look at a set of best practices for hyperscale computing. I encourage you to follow the links to the various OCP specifications, which are concise and easy to read. Of course, most of us don’t have the opportunity to build a hyperscale computing infrastructure from scratch. In future articles, I’ll go into more detail about specific aspects of the project and explain how specific best practices from the OCP can be applied in a typical enterprise setting.