Amir Michael of Facebook gave a keynote at LinuxCon/CloudOpen last week on the Open Compute Project [GreenMonk write-up], which adds to the existing movement to migrate the open-source philosophy further down the stack, to the hardware level. His thesis was that openness tends to win, and he gave the comparison of the USB standard to the preexisting fragmented conglomerate of various parallel and serial ports with multiple protocols available for each port type.
The differences resulting in USB’s win, he suggested, were that the spec was easy to understand, it was free, and for companies it was cheap to obtain vendor IDs to manufacture hardware. Interestingly, this generally corresponds to something we spend a lot talking about at RedMonk, barriers to entry. I don’t normally think of cost as a component of openness, but it’s clearly true — if something’s nearly inaccessible for any reason, I wouldn’t consider it open.
In the cloud, he said, only one area isn’t open yet: the hardware. Hardware companies simply weren’t building features Facebook cared about, features relevant when purchases occur in the 1000s of servers instead of 10s:
- Power efficiency
- Cooling efficiency
- Maintenance efficiency (plastic molding, extra unneeded chips on the motherboard)
So they decided to design their own. After putting all that work into it, they thought, why not open it up so people don’t need to replicate the work? Much like Red Hat or Twitter, it seems that Facebook’s philosophy is, more and more, open by default.
Unlike Google, Facebook clearly doesn’t see its infrastructure as a differentiator, whether it’s hardware or software (see Cassandra, Hive, HipHop, etc.). Its value is in the data, as my colleague Steve has said before. And that’s fortunate for the rest of the world, who get to benefit from Facebook’s initial investment. It’s also a win for Facebook every time their open-sourced software or hardware gets external contributions.
Interest in Open Compute has been steady since a brief peak with its announcement in April 2011 (see Google search volume above), and Facebook just took delivery of its first racks a couple of months ago. Given that it hasn’t seen extensive testing in the real world yet, I would expect interest to increase dramatically as soon as the hardware is both well-tested and easily obtainable.
Disclosure: Facebook and Google are not clients. The Linux Foundation, which put on the conference, is a client and comped my registration.