Microsoft Open Sources Cloud Server Hardware Designs

Microsoft Tuesday joined the Open Compute Project, a Facebook-led industry consortium that's applying open-source principles to make data center hardware design as efficient as possible.

Until a few years ago, Microsoft was considered an enemy of open-source software, but it has been making big strides on that front. Now Microsoft is taking the wraps off previously proprietary hardware designs and making them available for other companies to use.

Specifically, Microsoft is contributing a specification it uses for the cloud servers that run megascale services like Windows Azure, Bing and Office 365, Bill Laing, Microsoft's corporate vice president of cloud and enterprise, said in a keynote address at the OCP Summit in San Jose, Calif.

Via its Microsoft Open Technologies subsidiary, the company is open-sourcing the code it has built for managing its hardware operations, which handles server diagnostics, power supply and fan control, Laing said. Microsoft also wants to help build an open-source software community within OCP, he said.

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By joining the OCP, Microsoft is getting a seat at the table in an organization that's all about cost savings. Jay Parikh, vice president of infrastructure at Facebook, said Facebook has saved $1.2 billion in infrastructure costs from applying open-source hardware design principles.

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Microsoft's breakthrough move to join the Open Compute Project is a game-changer given that it opens the door to a growing market -- the hyper-scale server data center environment -- that up until now has been dominated by Linux, said Michael Goldstein, president and CEO of LAN Infotech, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Microsoft Silver partner and a member of the company's Cloud Champions.

"This is going to help Microsoft be more competitive against Linux offerings," said Goldstein. "It gives Microsoft the ability to see what's coming in the market with big data center customers like Facebook to try to leap ahead of Linux. Now Microsoft can really see what is going on in these data centers and use it to their advantage. It gives them an opportunity to see how their services like Bing, Azure and Office 365 stack up against Linux open-source alternatives and even Google."

With Microsoft getting the Open Compute green light, there is also more opportunity for solution providers to play in that market with private-label, Intel-based hyper-scale server offerings. That's a market where distributor Synnex is participating with a possibility for partners to offer those Open Compute-based servers to customers, said Goldstein. "Those are pure Intel boxes with all Intel components including storage," he said. "It's definitely an opportunity for partners."

Microsoft's specification includes a 12U chassis that fits into standard EIA racks. It fits up to 24 commodity servers per chassis with a non-RAID, JBOD (just a bunch of disks) storage option. The design also includes integrated cabling and shared power and cooling, Laing said.

Laing acknowledged that some audience members might be puzzled by Microsoft's embrace of open-source hardware design, but made it clear this isn't some sort of publicity stunt. "We're here to share our knowledge and experience, and to make it available in an open way," Laing said. Microsoft also plans to "deeply partner" with the OCP community, he said.

Organizations that use Microsoft's cloud server specification will see 40 percent server cost savings, 15 percent power-efficiency improvements, and a 50 percent reduction in deployment and service times compared to traditional enterprise servers, Laing said.

Microsoft already has seen the benefits in its own data centers: Laing said the cloud server specification has saved Microsoft 1,100 miles of network cabling and cut 10,000 tons of weight from the more than 1 million servers it's currently running.