Facebook Turning Data Centre Hardware on Its Head

Oct 14, 2013

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It is safe to say that few other companies have made as much of an impact on the Internet and IT systems as Facebook. Originally launched as a college project by entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has grown to be an international force to be reckoned with on many levels.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that hardware manufacturers are unhappy with how Facebook is handling its hardware blueprints. As part of their Open Compute Project, the social media behemoth openly publishes hardware blueprints and data centre designs for all to see and copy. Facebook engineers already design their own systems while contracting the hardware manufacturing out to Asian companies that can produce the equipment for less than their American counterparts can. Anyone else accessing the Facebook information could use it to design and build their own systems in the same way. Facebook has not disclosed why they are allowing other companies to freely benefit from the efforts of their engineers however we suspect the Open Compute Project follows the same line of thinking as open source software. It is a philosophy that says technology information should be available for all to see, learn from and modify as needed. Making this data centre information freely available can only hurt the major manufacturers who sell hundreds of billions of euros worth of hardware every single year. If design blueprints are freely available from a company with a proven track record like Facebook, others might be tempted to go with low-cost hardware vendors while designing their own systems. According to some industry analysts, this could signal the start of a new paradigm shift that will emphasise DIY system design and low-cost hardware suppliers.  This could end up being the biggest shift the networking and IT services sector has ever seen.  Imagine big players like Dell and HP taking a back seat to new manufacturers primarily because their high cost systems are no longer necessary.

More than Just Hardware

At first glance, it would seem the main players in hardware manufacturing could compete simply by lowering their prices. Nevertheless, it's not as easy as that. What Facebook has done goes well beyond just the price they pay for hardware. They have dramatically increased efficiency for even more savings. For example, the company's newest data centre was recently opened in Sweden. It was designed to be as energy efficient as possible, using state-of-the-art technology and innovative power generation and consumption models. The facility has reduced the ratio of power and cooling to computing from 3 to 1 to approximately 1.04 to 1.  What they have created is a data centre that is three times more efficient than the closest competitor.


Other companies are looking at Facebook's accomplishment and wondering whether they can do it themselves.  They are feverishly studying the Open Compute Project to try to figure it out.  As more of them take the plunge, things are really going to change… you can bet your bottom dollar on that!