Microsoft's Server Design Contribution To Open Compute Project Prompts Partner Interest

Microsoft introduced a cutting-edge server architecture design on Monday, accompanied by a new methodology for collaborating with technology giants on hardware innovation for hyper-scale cloud data centers.

Microsoft's Project Olympus, a contribution to the Open Compute Project launched by Facebook, offers a roadmap for designing data center hardware in cooperation with open communities.

The proposed approach to hardware development takes inspiration from open source software contributors who collaborate by sharing code with their larger ecosystems well before the projects are near completion.

[Related: Telecom Giants Join Facebook's Open Compute Project As Pressure Mounts For Cisco]

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Microsoft will pursue hardware development for its Azure cloud in that same vein, said Kusagra Vaid, general manager for Azure's hardware infrastructure, in a blog post discussing the project.

"We’ve learned a tremendous amount from our deep collaboration with the OCP Foundation and the open source community over the past few years," Vaid said. "An important realization is that open source hardware development is currently not as agile and iterative as open source software. "

The Project Olympus model recommends sharing cloud server designs by the time they're half completed, allowing early community contributions, modifications and forking. Currently, open hardware methodologies like the one used by OCP members tend to yield design contributions only when projects are near production-ready.

Microsoft believes its proposed approach will help not only other vendors, but partners and resellers.

’We intend for it to become the foundation for a broad ecosystem of compliant hardware products developed by the OCP community. It is an open effort for the benefit of the broader community, and ultimately customers,’ he told CRN before delivering a keynote on the subject at the Zettastructure conference in London.

’Many of the large vendors are members of the open hardware and open networking communities and the specification can be used to incorporate their own products or build new products based on our contributions,’ Vaid told CRN via email.

"We certainly keep track of these developments and changes in external stance," said Ben Mead, cloud and infrastructure lead at Credera, a Dallas-based Microsoft Azure partner.

Credera works with many of the companies looking to leverage the OCP specifications to deliver lower-cost solutions in their own data centers, Mead said.

It's important for Microsoft's channel partners and other OCP vendors to understand the value and limitations of software-defined data center solutions from a Microsoft implementation perspective, he said.

The proposed methodology is a natural extension of a model Microsoft has championed for the past few years, Mead told CRN.

"From a partner perspective, the continued evolution towards Cloud First coupled with the rapid retirement and reduction in incentives tied to legacy on-premise[s] implementation outcomes is forcing many partners to change their stance," Mead told CRN.

For some solution providers, adaptation isn't feasible, and they'll eventually exit the market.

"But for those more innovative solution integrators the change should have a positive impact on their overall value proposition with customers who are seeking to fully exploit the promise of the cloud rather than continuing to be exploited by the hardware resellers of yesterday," Mead told CRN.

OCP was founded by Facebook to promote collaboration in the design of data center infrastructure. The community has swelled to a who's who of technology behemoths, including Intel, Apple, Cisco and Google.

Microsoft joined the Open Compute Project in 2014, a move illustrative of a major shift in posture from the world's largest software company, once strongly in opposition to non-proprietary business models.

Vaid noted that Microsoft had been a major proponent of open source technologies for a decade. More than 90 percent of the servers Microsoft purchases for its Azure data centers are based on specifications contributed through the OCP.

The technology Microsoft is contributing through Project Olympus involves a universal motherboard, high-availability power supply with batteries, and a new rack power distribution unit for global data center interoperability.

"We believe Project Olympus is the most modular and flexible cloud hardware design in the data center industry," Vaid said. "We intend for it to become the foundation for a broad ecosystem of compliant hardware products developed by the OCP community."