Facebook’s Open Compute Project Pushes Cheaper Computer Hardware

While everybody flocked to the launch of Facebook’s new search tool Graph Search this week, the social network subtly announced a potentially revolutionary project.

On Tuesday, Facebook had a much-deserved fanfare during its introduction of Graph Search at the Facebook headquarters, and no other than its CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg did the honors.

The media and the public gathered around outlets – offline and online – to discuss the pros and cons of this new social search technology, so much so that it eclipsed another announcement capable of bringing long-term effects to the tech industry.

In brief, some of the world’s largest computing systems are now cheaper, easier to set up; thus, these systems’ hardware suppliers must scuttle around to stay profitable.

Behind the anxiety is an open-source project led by Facebook: the Open Compute Project.

Launched in 2011 the initiative is a joint effort among tech firms to use open-source computer hardware and share intellectual property with Linux software, lowering prices that fueled innovation.

Arista Networks, Dell, Goldman Sachs, HP, Intel, and Rackspace – these are just a few of The Open Compute Project’s important members.

Intel announced on Wednesday that it will exclusively release to members a silicon-based optical system that allows data and computing elements in a server rack to communicate at 100 Gbps (gigabits a second), a much faster transfer rate compared with traditional wire-based methods but only consumes nearly half the power.

A rack of computer servers helps separate elements (memory and processing) that need a fix, saving time and effort from server upgrades associated with changes to data-processing hardware.

Moreover, Facebook announced a computer motherboard called Grouphug, which allows different OEM chips to switch without changing other machine parts.

These innovations, when assembled, cut the cost and complexity of running data centers to a degree that works for many companies.

Frank Frankovsky, VP of hardware design at Facebook and chairman of Open Compute, said that companies aim for cheaper, more efficient servers.

The group’s problems are larger than Facebook’s challenges, and people expect faster processing times for the huge amount of global data, Frankovsky added.

The social networking firm needs thousands – and counting – of spread computer servers in datacenters worldwide to keep its operations and generate revenue.

Non-members Amazon and Google use proprietary systems that give them an advantage over their rivals.

While this will affect incumbent hardware, it will also help them with their limited engineering resources and let them hear from a community about product interests, said Frankovsky.

Cheaper computing means Intel can take advantage from the open-source release and assure an increase in demand for its chips.

Facebook still has to face a real test whether it can draw more buyers for Open Compute equipment or not.

IDC analyst Matt Eastwood said there is doubt over Facebook’s project: Can Open Compute expand further than a few web businesses such as Facebook and Rackspace, or financial services at Goldman, and get this to industries such as aerospace and oil?

If the movement can extend that much, it will catapult from only 20 or 30 firms to hundreds, added Eastwood.

He argues, however, that this concern is nontechnical, as it means urging company IT professionals curious about revolutionary design shifts.

The Open Compute Project is not yet ready to be the next big thing this year, or next, but it could redo many industries in the end.

In perspective, Linux hung around as a small player for several years but toppled Java creator Sun Microsystems, the dominant independent software platform at the time, and other major players.

Facebook Open Compute Project

Featured image by Andrew Feinberg via Flickr (CC)

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Francis Rey Balolong

A coffee junkie who spends most of his time writing about the latest news on social media and mobile technology. I would definitely consider myself a nerd (in the coolest most hipster way possible). That being said, I love technology, music, writing, and all things mobile. Follow me: Google+ Twitter

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