Open Sourcing Data Center Design

Can the principles of open source software transform the data center industry? A group of industry veterans are teaming with the University of Missouri on an open source approach to data center design and engineering, and plan to use a Missouri data center project as a testbed for their innovations.

The Open Source Data Center Initiative aims to “provide a platform for stable, secure, efficient and sustainable state-of-the-art operations that can be replicated world-wide, accomplished through public/private investment.” The effort has added a high-profile advisor in Mike Manos, who has advocated for more openness and information sharing about data center best practices in his leadership roles at Microsoft and Digital Realty trust, and recently joined Nokia.

Manos is working with Dave Ohara of Green M3, Enginuity Worldwide LLC and the University of Missouri. Also involved is ARG Investments, which hopes to implement the group’s approaches in a data center it is planning at the Ewing Business Park in Missouri.

“We have been able to put together quite a team of industry heavyweights to get involved in this effort,” Manos writes at his Loose Bolts blog. “Those announcements are forthcoming, and when they do, I think you will get a sense of the type of sea-change this effort could potentially have.”

Not A Think Tank
Manos emphasized that this will not be another think tank or industry consortium seeking to build consensus. “This Open Source Data Center Initiative is focused around execution,” Manos says. “It’s focused around putting together an open and free engineering framework upon which data center designs, technologies, and the like can be quickly put together and standardize the (way) both end-users and engineering firms approach the data center industry.

“If you think of the Linux movement, and all of those who actively participate in submitting enhancements, features, even pulling together specific build packages for distribution, one could even see such things emerging in the data center engineering realm.”

Ohara, known for his Green Data Center Blog, is a technology industry veteran who has worked at Apple, HP, and Microsoft. “The partnership started based on the idea (that) data center innovation requires public/private partnerships,” Dave wrote in announcing the effort. “To be innovative we needed a different model of operation, where ideas could easily develop and can be evaluated. The Open Source Software model made sense, given the data center focus.”

Ohara said he will convert his Green M3 consulting organization into a 501c3 non-profit, while the University of Missouri will provide expertise and administrative support. The Ewing Business Park, a proposed data center in an energy-rich location, will provide a working project in which the group’s ideas can be implemented. “By using an operating business park as the vessel for technology implementation, the technology improvements are more likely to uncover step-change advances and facilitate industry adoption,” notes the statement of support from the university.

A More Nimble Framework for Change?
Manos says the Open Source Data Center Initiative is the right vehicle for making data center best practices more widely available, and can accelerate adoption of new ideas more effectively than membership-based industry consortiums.

“These groups have been out espousing best practices for years,” Manos writes. “They have been pushing for change (for the most part). They do a great job of highlighting the challenges we face, but for the most part have waited around for universal good will and monetary pressures to make them happen.”

If the open source design initiative succeeds, it will be disruptive to many parts of the data center ecosystem, where secrecy, confidentiality and competition have complicated information-sharing efforts.

Resistance to New Approaches
“We certainly expect there to be some resistance to this approach out there and in fact some outright negativity from those firms that make the most of the black box complexity components,” Manos acknowledges. “I believe that some engineering and construction firms are incented ‘not to change’ or implementing new approaches. The cover of complexity allows customers to remain in the dark while innovation is stifled. Those forces who desire to maintain an aura of black box complexity around this space and repeatedly speak to the arcane arts of building out data center facilities have been at this a long time.”

Many questions remain about how the effort will be managed and implemented. The group says its output may be released as multi-component packages, similar to Linux distributions. A web portal for information sharing will be crucial to building community and sharing information.

Can an open source data center initiative succeed? What are the key considerations and potential impacts of this effort? Share your take in our comments.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Rex

    Great idea! I've spent the last couple of years scouring the web to borrow data center ideas from Amazon, Google, Intel, LLNL, Microsoft, PG&E, SDSC, Sun (now Oracle) and others, often with the help of DCK (Thanks!). I hope many of those organizations choose to participate in this initiative. I also found a lot of snake oil from vendors with a vested interest in selling complex, expensive products. I hope this initiative includes information for small data centers. Tens of thousands of smaller data centers in the USA probably add up to a lot of electricity consumption, and they aren't going away. Small data center builders/operators could benefit from a reliable source of design information, since they usually don't have in-house data center experts.

  2. As someone who's primary job function is to work closely with A&E firms to make aware the importance of having the holes (and solutions) spec'd in on the front end of a data center build, I agree that information is hard to come by. I think the information sharing is a wonderful idea so every aspect of a DC, from bypass airflow solutions to hot spots in the servers racks can be address in a best practice format. This will not only increase density, minimize OpEx, minimize CapEx and increase energy efficiency but will also push for a green environment which can offer large tax deductions as well. Isn't that what everyone wants?