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 also announced new specifications that expand the range of systems available through the project and could make them applicable to more customers. For example, it is developing a common processor slot that will allow companies to put CPUs from different vendors in the same motherboard.

Meanwhile, Intel said it will contribute its silicon photonics technology, to provide a fast interconnect within server racks, and Advanced Micro Devices said it completed a motherboard specification for use by financial services companies.

Facebook's argument is that current server designs are too inflexible. Customers who buy from top-tier vendors such as Dell or Hewlett-Packard have limited choice among the components they can pick, and they often can't change those parts once they're in place.

"The power supply shouldn't be embedded in the server, otherwise you have to design the server around it, and if your power requirements change, you're stuck," said Frank Frankovsky, a Facebook vice president, in a speech opening the summit.

Instead, power supplies can be implemented at the rack level, where they can be upgraded as needs dictate, he said.

Likewise, I/O modules, CPUs and other components should not be dependent on each other, Frankovsky said.

"That will allow us to do a smarter technology refresh when it's time to upgrade, where we take out some components but leave others we don't need to change," he said.

The common processor slot will allow companies to "evaluate different CPUs right up to the last hour" when they're selecting a new server design, he said.

It's easy to see how the model could benefit large-scale Internet services companies such as Facebook, which already designs its own servers. It has also attracted cloud service providers such as Rackspace, which also submitted new designs this week.

But some participants here said other large companies can benefit, too.

AMD said the motherboard it developed is designed to bring the Open Compute Project to more than just online giants such as Facebook. It developed the specification, which was codenamed Roadrunner, by working with financial services firms Fidelity Investments and Goldman Sachs.

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