Facebook’s project may be gaining traction because companies that manufacture servers, such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell, face a threat as business customers stop buying their own servers and instead turn to enormous third-party cloud operations like those offered by Amazon. “IT purchasing power is being consolidated into a smaller number of very large data centers,” Frankovsky says. “The product plans and road maps of suppliers haven’t been aligned with that.” Being able to study the designs of one of the biggest cloud operators around can help suppliers reshape their product lines for the cloud era.
However, not everyone wants servers to run just like Facebook’s, which are designed specifically for the demands of a giant online social network. That’s why Nebula, which offers a cloud computing platform derived from one originally developed at NASA, is tweaking Facebook’s designs and contributing them back to the Open Compute project. Nebula CEO Chris Kemp says this work will help companies that need greater memory and computing resources, such as biotech companies running simulations of drug mechanisms.
Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, which sells open-source cloud software to help businesses manage customer relations, sees challenges for Facebook’s project. “There have always been efforts on open hardware, but it is much harder to collaborate and share ideas than with open software,” he says. Nevertheless, Augustin expects the era of super-secret data center technology to eventually fade, simply because the secrecy is a distraction for businesses. “Many Internet companies today think that the way they run a data center is what differentiates them, but it is not,” he says. “Facebook has realized that opening up will drive down data centers’ costs so they can focus on their product, which is what really sets them apart.”