Microsoft Joins Open Compute Project, Shares its Server Designs


These are some of the more than 1 million servers powering Microsoft’s Internet infrastructure. The company is joining the Open Compute Project and sharing the designs of its servers and storage. (Photo: Microsoft)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – In a dramatic move that illustrates how cloud computing has altered the data center landscape, Microsoft is opening up the server and rack designs that power its vast online platforms and sharing them with the world.

Microsoft has joined the Open Compute Project and will be contributing specs and designs for the cloud servers that power Bing, Windows Azure and Office 365. The company will discuss its plans tomorrow in the keynote session of the Open Compute Summit in San Jose.

Why would Microsoft, long seen as the standardbearer for proprietary technology, suddenly make such an aggressive move into open hardware?

“We came to the conclusion that by sharing these hardware innovations, it will help us accelerate the growth of cloud computing,” said Kushagra Vaid, General Manager of Cloud Server Engineering for Microsoft. “This will directly factor into products for enterprise and private clouds. It’s a virtuous cycle in which we create a consistent experience across all three clouds.”

Azure Clouds for the Enterprise

The designs and code for Microsoft’s cloud servers will now be available for other companies to use. A larger circle of vendors will be able to build hardware based upon the designs, which in turn will allow enterprises to create hybrid Windows Azure clouds running on the same hardware across its on-premises data centers and in Microsoft’s cloud.

The Open Compute Project (OCP) was founded by Facebook in 2011 to take the concepts behind open source software and create an “open hardware” movement to build commodity systems for hyperscale data centers. It has spurred the growth of a vibrant development community, which is now expanding its focus to cover network equipment.

Microsoft now wants to reap the benefits of that ecosystem, which has rapidly transformed Facebook’s initial server and storage designs into commercial products. It also hopes to expand OCP’s efforts to include management software.

“The depth of information Microsoft is sharing with OCP is unprecedented,” said Bill Laing, Microsoft Corporate VP for Server and Cloud, in a blog post. “As part of this effort, Microsoft Open Technologies is open sourcing the software code we created for the management of hardware operations, such as server diagnostics, power supply and fan control. We would like to help build an open source software community within OCP as well.”

Competition in the Cloud

Microsoft’s move to align with Open Compute reflects the intensifying competition in cloud services, where Microsoft, Google and Rackspace are among the players seeking to wrest share from market leader Amazon Web Services. Tapping the OCP’s nimble ecosystem of hardware vendors could accelerate innovation on Microsoft’s cloud platform, resulting in an integrated hybrid cloud platform that can keep pace with AWS.

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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. Glad to see, MS is taking steps into the correct direction, IMHO: In the long run, companies who leverages best the network effects of open source & open communinites will have a bigger competitive advantage. And in MS case, in special, nice to get more information on their system design & architecture. Regards

  2. One key motivation is likely Google. Data centers represent one of Google's largest competitive advantages. Commoditization of your competitors' products and infrastructure is just good business: It's a strategy that works and usually benefits both consumers and upstart businesses.

  3. One of my clients is there and the big question they are trying to answer is how much of the OCP is a race to the bottom and commoditization of infrastructure led by the big companies who already expect, and receive, tighter margins from their vendors given their scale. If that is the goal, then the companies with the tightest supply chains will win.It also supports our notion of computing as a utility. It bodes well for containerized data centers in that I can now use a common form factor, fill it with standard hardware, and deploy a set number of resources measured by kw, cores, circuits, or containers. It is also opening up collaborative innovation opportunities with companies to integrate what used to be silos - like bus bars tightly integrated with cabinets that incorporate the same hardware connections, or preconfigured containers that can ship with servers and storage in racks so you can order a container a quarter or half full to service the first chunk of kit required with a form factor that is finite, controlled, constant, and flexible. It'll be fun to watch, that's for sure...

  4. zborn

    Up to a certain point, it's the services that count. What would be interesting is the amount of bloat in usage in the data centre. Cruft.