The backs of Open Compute servers supporting infrastructure cloud services at an IO data center.

Facebook’s Open Compute Servers Still Tough Sell for Corporate IT Shops

Facebook’s Open Compute Project has been one of the most talked about developments in the world of data center hardware over the past couple of years, and interest in the first ever open source hardware design community and its output has only grown.

Facebook has publicly said it saved more than $1 billion as a result of using Open Compute gear in its data centers, and companies like Rackspace and IO have built cloud infrastructure services using Open Compute server designs. Earlier this year Microsoft said it had adopted OCP specs for the infrastructure that supports its entire portfolio of online services, including Azure.

While there are some individual success stories, however, there has been little public information about how OCP is doing in the traditional data center space. Are banks and corporate IT shops using Open Compute servers? The most likely answer is not really or very little.

As Jon Koomey, a consulting professor at Stanford University who does a lot of research in IT and data center efficiency, said, few customers in the enterprise space are in the position to make the leap.

“If the customer is on the ball and is really driving down cost per compute, they should be receptive to what Open Compute offers,” Koomey wrote in an email. “But this only happens in places where there is one owner of the data center and one budget, which is a minority of the enterprises.”

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But the amount of servers OCP hardware vendors can sell to Facebook, Microsoft and a handful of smaller players is quite finite, and the vendors have been making efforts to expand their market reach beyond their currently limited customer base.

Easier isn’t the same as cheaper

Hyve Solutions, a Fremont, California-based subsidiary of Synnex Corp. that was the first official Open Compute Project solution provider, specializes in custom data center hardware and is one of the primary suppliers of OCP gear to web-scale customers, including Facebook.

Hyve president Steve Ichinaga said the majority of the company’s revenue comes from the large web-scale customers, but it has been doing a lot to expand its business with smaller-scale data centers.

“We want to be able to service both, but we certainly can see there continues to be a lot of business in the large-scale data center space,” he said. “It is still the largest piece of our market today, and I expect it will continue to be so.”

To address the non-web-scale market, Hyve has created “OCP-inspired” hardware designs that fit in standard 19-inch racks (the Open Rack is 21 inches wide) and work with standard power supplies. The company has contributed those designs to the open source project.

Hyve has put in this effort because there is interest in the traditional enterprise market in getting the benefits of OCP. “There seems to be a lot of interest in the enterprise space,” Ichinaga said.

Today, sticking with OEM gear is a “path of least resistance” for an enterprise IT shop, Ichinaga said. They’re used to relying on proprietary management software as part of the package they get from an OEM, and they’re used to buying servers and storage arrays and setting them up as separate environments.

The OCP model is different. Compute and storage are “collapsed,” and management tools draw a lot on the open source code base.

The transition can be somewhat disruptive, but at the end of the day, easier doesn’t necessarily equal cheaper, Ichinaga said. The OCP path may be more cost effective in the long run.

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About the Author

San Francisco-based business and technology journalist. Editor in chief at Data Center Knowledge, covering the global data center industry.

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