Facebook pushes a new model for buying servers

The company says its Open Compute Project will give customers more choice and flexibility in choosing servers

By , IDG News Service |  Data Center, Facebook, Open Compute Project

Facebook's Frank Frankovsky shows a prototype motherboard with the new common slot architecture, which will support any type of CPU

IDG News Service/James Niccolai

Facebook has proposed a new model for designing servers that it says will give businesses more choice in selecting components and a smarter way to upgrade systems when needs change, though it remains to be seen how widely its method will be adopted.

The social networking company is looking to "disaggregate" the data center, meaning it wants to reduce the dependencies among computer parts and make it easier for large companies to design the systems they need to suit their own particular workloads.

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It laid out the plans at a summit on Wednesday for its Open Compute Project, in which it's working with component suppliers and end-user companies to define specifications for these interchangeable parts.

The idea is that tech-savvy companies would be able to choose a server design more in tune with their needs. They could order the server through a systems integrator, which would then source parts through components suppliers that have signed onto the project. However, there's some debate about how applicable the model is outside Internet companies and cloud service providers.

Systems from top-tier server vendors are based on standards to a degree, but the variety of configurations those vendors offer is limited, and many parts are soldered to the motherboard so they can't be swapped out easily. One result of Facebook's project may be to pressure those vendors into making their own designs more flexible.

Momentum behind the effort is growing. Facebook announced several new Open Compute Project members at the summit, including storage vendors EMC, Sandisk and Fusion-io, and ARM processor vendors Calxeda, Applied Micro and Tilera. Hitachi also joined, as did Orange and NTT Data, who joined the roster of companies that use servers and are providing input.

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