Open-source hardware is gaining critical mass

Open Compute Project acclaims moves by HP and others that should make it easier to adopt

Open Compute Project President and Chairman Frank Frankovsky spoke on Tuesday at the Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose.

Open Compute Project President and Chairman Frank Frankovsky spoke on Tuesday at the Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose.

The Open Compute Project, which wants to open up hardware the same way Linux opened up software, is starting to tackle its forklift problem.

You can't download boxes or racks, so open-source hardware needs a supply chain, said OCP President and Chairman Frank Frankovsky Tuesday morning, kicking off the Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose. Most enterprises don't know how to make their own systems the way Facebook does, so it formed OCP four years ago to spread the gospel of open hardware and eventually build a market for it.

That vision has attracted an impressive array of vendors and customers. New members include Hewlett-Packard, networking players Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks, network chip maker Broadcom, and Samsung. Another new member is Apple, which has a lot in common with Web-scale companies like Facebook in its vast cloud services operations.

The companies looking to adopt this kind of gear include some blue-chip names: Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Capital One are members.

The idea is that if a lot of vendors build hardware to OCP specifications, IT departments will have more suppliers to choose from offering gear they can easily bring into their data centers. Standard hardware can also provide more platforms for innovative software, Frankovsky said.

Now HP and other vendors are starting to deliver OCP systems in a way the average IT department understands. At the same time, the organization is taking steps to make sure new projects are commercially viable rather than just exercises in technology.

The open hardware movement started with huge operators of data centers like Facebook that have the scale and expertise to buy hardware directly from manufacturers and put their own software on it. Most enterprises have stuck with buying conventional, tested products from vendors rather than trying to build open-hardware systems from scratch like the big shops do. OCP wants to give them a way to adopt open hardware more easily.

"It doesn't have to be such a bold choice anymore," Frankovsky said.

HP's entry into the fold marks a big step for open hardware, he said. It announced a line of no-frills servers, called Cloudline, based on standards defined by OCP and by the Open Networking Foundation. HP developed the servers with Foxconn, which is contributing its manufacturing might, and plans to market them to suppliers of Internet-based services like Facebook.

Other vendors, including Taiwan-based network supplier Accton and server maker Stack Velocity, are also turning OCP specifications into commercial reality. But HP brings a name and a scale of distribution that few can match.

OCP is also looking to business realities when members propose new contributions to the project. It wants the name of a lead customer that wants to buy the technology and the lead supplier that's willing to build it, as well as whether it's available from multiple channels so users will have a choice of where to buy it.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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