If you invented something cheaper, more efficient, and more powerful than what came before, you might want to keep the recipe a closely guarded secret. Yet Facebook took the opposite approach after opening a 147,000-square-foot computing center in rural Oregon this April. It published blueprints for everything from the power supplies of its computers to the super-efficient cooling system of the building. Other companies are now cherry-picking ideas from those designs to cut the costs of building similar facilities for cloud computing.
The Open Compute Project, as the effort to open-source the technology in Facebook’s vast data center is known, may sound altruistic. But it is an attempt to manipulate the market for large-scale computing infrastructure in Facebook’s favor. The company hopes to encourage hardware suppliers to adopt its designs widely, which could in turn drive down the cost of the sever computers that deal with the growing mountain of photos and messages posted by its 750 million users. Just six months after the project’s debut, there are signs that the strategy is working and that it will lower the costs of building—and hence using—cloud computing infrastructure for other businesses, too.
Facebook’s peers, such as Google and Amazon, maintain a tight silence about how they built the cloud infrastructure that underpins their businesses. But that stifles the flow of ideas needed to make cloud technology better, says Frank Frankovsky, Facebook’s director of technical operations and one of the founding members of the Open Compute Project. He’s working to encourage other companies to contribute improvements to Facebook’s designs.
Among the partners: chip makers Intel and AMD, which helped Facebook’s engineers tweak the design of the custom motherboards in its servers to get the best computing performance for the least electrical power use. Chinese Web giants Tencent and Baidu are also involved; after touring Facebook’s Oregon facility, Tencent’s engineers shared ideas about how to distribute power inside a data center more efficiently. Even Apple, which recently launched its iCloud service, is testing servers based on Facebook’s designs. Eventually the Open Compute Project could exist independently of the company that started it, as a shared resource for the industry.