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Microsoft open-sources half-baked Azure servers to boost OCP innovation

Redmond reckons open source hardware needs Alphas to fork with, just like open source code

Microsoft thinks the Open Compute Project (OCP) moves a bit too slowly, so has tossed out some half-baked server designs in an effort to speed things along.

“Project Olympus”, as Microsoft modestly calls its new effort, is both “our next generation hyperscale cloud hardware design and a new model for open source hardware development with the OCP community.”

The new model first: Microsoft's previous work with OCP has led it to believe that “open source hardware development is currently not as agile and iterative as open source software.”

As Kushagra Vaid, general manager of Azure Hardware Infrastructure has written, “The current process for open hardware development is to contribute designs that are production-ready. At that stage, the design is essentially finalized – almost 100% complete – and this late contribution delays the development of derivative designs, limits interactive community engagement and adoption, and slows down overall delivery.”

Hence Microsoft's decision to release its new server designs that Vaid says “are approx. 50% complete.”

Redmond reckons other OCP participants will take its designs and fork them up in the nicest way possible, with the result that the Project's next set of specs reflect all the riffing that's been done on the new design.

And now for the servers, which look interesting.

Microsoft says Olympian servers will offer “a new universal motherboard, high-availability power supply with included batteries, 1U/2U server chassis, high-density storage expansion, a new universal rack power distribution unit (PDU) for global datacenter interoperability, and a standards compliant rack management card.”

All the stuff on that shopping list will be modular so that system builders can cook their own rigs.

Microsoft's put Olympus' server chassis interfaces, universal motherboard and PDU onto GitHub and promises to release the full rack spec soon.

That Microsoft is willing to have its hardware thinking exposed so early suggests it believes clouds differentiate with software and operational skill, not hardware. With AWS and Google also signed up for OCP, it's therefore possible to assume that before long big bit barns will look pretty similar inside. Or some parts of them, anyway: AWS is pursuing a patent for a Shelf-mounted modular computing unit and patents are not the kind of thing OCP encourages. ®

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