Facebook contributed the "Group Hug" motherboard to the Open Compute Project in 2013. It can be used to produce boards that are vendor-neutral and will last through multiple processor generations (Photo: OCP)

Why OCP Servers are Hard to Get for Enterprise IT Shops


This month, we focus on the open source data center. From innovation at every physical layer of the data center coming out of Facebook’s Open Compute Project to the revolution in the way developers treat IT infrastructure that’s being driven by application containers, open source is changing the data center throughout the entire stack. This March, we zero in on some of those changes to get a better understanding of the pervasive open source data center.

Sometime in the early 2000s, Amir Michael responded to a Craigslist ad that was advertising a data center technician job at a company whose name was not mentioned. He applied, and the company turned out to be Google. After years of fixing and then designing servers for Google data centers, Michael joined Facebook, which was at the time just embarking on its journey of conversion from a web company that was running on off-the-shelf gear in colocation data centers to an all-custom hyperscale infrastructure.

He was one of the people that led those efforts at Facebook, designing servers, flying to Taiwan to negotiate with hardware manufacturers, doing everything to make sure the world’s largest social network didn’t overspend on infrastructure. He later co-founded the Open Compute Project, the Facebook-led effort to apply the ethos of open source software to hardware and data center design.

Amir Michael Coolan mug

Amir Michael, founder and CEO, Coolan

Today, he is the founder and CEO of Coolan, a startup whose software uses analytics to show companies how effective their choices of data center components are and helps them make more informed infrastructure buying and management decisions.

We caught up with Michael last week after his keynote at the Data Center World Global conference in Las Vegas to talk about the problems of adoption of OCP hardware and data center design principles by traditional enterprise IT shops, and about the project’s overall progress in light of Google recently becoming a member, making Amazon the last major US-based hyperscale data center operator that has yet to join.

Here’s the first of multiple parts of our interview with Michael.

Data Center Knowledge: There has been a lot of talk about the importance of OCP to the world of traditional enterprise IT, but we haven’t seen much adoption of OCP servers in that space besides a handful of large companies, such as Goldman Sachs or Fidelity Investments. Is OCP really a compelling story for the smaller enterprise IT team?

Amir Michael: The idea behind OCP is taking a lot of the best practices and pushing them into the rest of the data center market. When it comes to enterprise, that’s a challenge. A lot of them are still on standard solutions. The area of interest for OCP there is actually starting the conversations with them. If they are engaged – almost regardless of whether they’re buying OCP solutions or not – they’re going to start to ask the right questions of their vendors as well. Maybe the end result is that they end up buying OCP gear, which is great, but the important part is that they buy efficient gear. And it can be OCP gear, or maybe they go and ask their current vendors to go and build gear that has a lot of the same principles OCP has, and that’s a win as well.

This may be what ultimately pushes these best practices further into the enterprise space and further into the vendors where it’s not acceptable to build inefficient solutions anymore. People don’t want that.

OCP’s efforts to try an engage enterprises more through adoption of the motherboard [for standard 19-inch servers], making OCP systems that are easier for them to consume, I think it’s a great way of getting that conversation started. The systems don’t have all the same benefits as 100 percent pure OCP gear does – [the gear] that is powering Facebook’s or Microsoft’s data centers or whoever else – but I think that having that conversation piece at the table, whether or not they adopt it, is extremely important.

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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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