Pressures up and down the stack drive innovation in open-source hardware


Technology is complex, and becoming even more so. It used to be that a company could get by with just a few smart people in their tech department. Now, creating and managing tech solutions on an enterprise scale is beyond the power of even the most talented people. As such, industry giants and smaller players alike are converging their compute, networking and storage technologies with common hardware and open standards. 

The Open Compute Project, an effort started by Facebook Inc. to reduce the complexity and cost of high-tech infrastructure, is setting a prime example for enterprise data centers. Facebook’s designs for an energy-efficient data center, one that’s 24 percent less expensive to run, it says, became the public core of the early OCP. Along with Intel Corp., Rackspace Inc., Goldman Sachs and Andy Bechtolsheim (co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc.) the OCP Foundation was formed to encourage the kind of collaboration and innovation seen in the open-source software world.

At last week’s Open Compute Project Summit, Jeff Frick (@JeffFrick), host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, spoke to event attendees about the industry’s growing interest in open-source hardware, how recent developments are advancing the open ecosystem, and what business opportunities may arise from emerging industry trends.

Collaboration across the stack

The OCP rides on three horses: compute, storage and networking, according to David Floyer, co-founder and chief technology officer at Wikibon. Innovating on the compute side, Intel showcased a number of processor upgrades at the summit, while Qualcomm Inc. debuted the first 10 nanometer computer, highlighting how mobile tech is becoming server technology.

This point was seconded by Kevin Deierling, vice president of marketing at Mellanox Technologies, Ltd. Organizations are connecting across multiple platforms, such as Microsoft’s Project Olympus — a next generation hyperscale cloud hardware design and a new model for open-source hardware development with the OCP community — and an ARM-based Qualcomm platform, he added.

“It used to be that the servers would drive the roadmap; now we’re seeing mobile platforms doing it,” he said.  

The OpenPOWER Foundation — a collaboration around Power Architecture products initiated by IBM Corp. — even demonstrated its new POWER9 processor on the show floor. “It’s interesting to see OCP is embracing all three platforms at this convention,” Floyer said.

As for storage, everyone seemed to be focusing on flash and faster ways to connect to the processors. New technologies, such as Non-Volatile Memory Express and NVMe over Fabrics, offered hope for those faster connections. Intel, Western Digital and other companies are working very hard to get those technologies out.

“It’s a real game changer,” Floyer said.

Then there was the networking part of the equation. Network speed and bandwidth are absolutely crucial for making this whole arrangement work. Because of that, very interesting things are being done in the networking space. For example, Microsoft recently announced its SONiC platform, which offers very high-speed connectivity between all the nodes.

“In my view, this is the datacenter of the future. We’re seeing it emerge from very high-speed networks, very high-speed storage and more powerful processors,” Floyer said.

Others at the convention echoed Floyer’s thoughts and offered their own insights. Chris Wright, vice president and chief technologist, Office of Technology, at Red Hat Inc., spoke about the need for an organization like OCP and its power for innovation.

“We really focus on engaging with the community, being a part of that community on behalf of our customers. It’s that level of engineering rigor that’s really required to be successful in any open-source project,” Wright said.

He felt there was a similar collaboration model in the OCP. In his eyes, the important part of open-source hardware is in giving the users an avenue for getting engaged. He saw it as a powerful way of doing technology innovation.

Justin Hotard, vice president and general manager of hyperscale and OEM solutions at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Development LP, said the OCP was an opportunity in the market.

“We saw the opportunity to move into open because this is a new and different way to service customers,” he said. He also mentioned that HPE is also shifting its focus to take advantage of the open-source ecosystem. “To be successful, we have to do that with a partner ecosystem; this is just the next step,” he said.

More than just an ecosystem, people seemed excited to work with the whole open-source community.

“This is a community coming into its skin. When open computing started it was a rack and a server and some storage,” said Cole Crawford, founder and chief executive officer of Vapor IO.

When that community includes such giants as Microsoft Corp., ARM, Intel and their contributing ecosystems, some serious collaboration can be done. “The smartest companies on the planet now have to look beyond their four walls. You have to go out to community,” Crawford said.

Watch the complete video playlist from Open Compute Project Summit 2017 below. (*Disclosure: Some segments on SiliconANGLE Media’s theCUBE are sponsored. Sponsors have no editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE