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Vapor IO Wants to Bring Server Management Tools Out of the 90s

Launches open source hardware management interface into general availability

Vapor IO, the data center infrastructure startup co-founded by Cole Crawford, former executive director of the Open Compute Project and one of people that stood at the genesis of OpenStack, has launched into general availability an open source technology that aims to bring basic server hardware management out of 1998 and into 2015.

OpenDCRE, which stands for Open Data Center Runtime Environment, does the same things Intel’s 17-year-old Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) does but in ways that better fit modern data center management tools, Crawford said.

The company also announced partnerships around OpenDCRE with data center analytics software companies Future Facilities and Romonet and planned to demonstrate the open source technology together with HP, using it to manage HP Cloudline, the commodity servers HP makes in partnership with the Taiwanese electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn.

In addition to its software products, Vapor has an unusual, cylindrical data center rack design, which the company says is a lot more energy- and space-efficient than traditional rows and aisles.

IPMI defines interface specs for out-of-band management, or management of server vitals without involving the operating system, CPU, or firmware. Data center managers use it to switch servers on or off or to track system temperature, power consumption, fans, or physical chassis intrusion.

The problem with IPMI, according to Crawford, is it was created in an era when IT managers had “personal relationships” with their servers. The technology was meant for high-touch server management, which in today’s world, where the data center is becoming increasingly automated – or software-defined – is inadequate.

“Fast-forward to today, and primary way to do management is still IPMI,” he said. IPMI is difficult to set up and it uses custom silicon on Baseboard Management Controllers, which create headaches for admins who want to automate infrastructure management.

Others have brought up the shortcomings of working with traditional vendor BMCs as well. Facebook created and open sourced its own OpenBMC software, saying BMC software supplied by vendors was too closed, and that vendors were too slow to make changes to the software for Facebook’s purposes.

Vapor’s OpenDCRE runs on Raspberry Pi 2, the $35 pocket-size computer. It can manage servers designed to Open Compute specs bypassing the BMC silicon completely. It manages traditional servers through BMC.

Its biggest advantage, however, is the API, which enables data center operators, system admins, DevOps admins, or vendors write code to automate infrastructure management using the familiar JSON format.

Vapor hopes more vendors extend OpenDCRE’s functionality. Crawford expects Croydon, UK-based Romonet, for example, to use it as part of its Operations Portal, data center performance tracking software that continuously assesses energy efficiency, availability, and capacity.

London-based Future Facilities will use it to create real-time heat maps in its Computational Fluid Dynamics modeling software, he said.

Any company that wants to streamline the physical data center and improve awareness of how their servers are working will benefit from OpenDCRE, Crawford said.

Vapor has built a commercial product on top of OpenDCRE called Vapor Core. It uses data collected by OpenDCRE to analyze application performance and the cost of that performance in terms of watts and dollars. Users can sign up for the beta version of Vapor Core starting today.

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