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Open Compute Project to design open silicon and optics in Strategy 2.0

Wants less 'vanity hardware', more modular and scalable kit

The Open Compute Project has outlined a strategy to take it into its second decade, and will pursue open silicon designs and do more work to enable future innovations in optical networking, AI, and immersion cooling.

The Project (OCP) was founded in 2011 when Facebook decided to share the hardware and data centre infrastructure designs it used to reach obscene scale while also becoming more efficient.

Facebook was aware of parallel projects at other hyperscalers, but figured all could benefit by sharing designs instead of working on their own efforts. Intel, Rackspace, Goldman Sachs, and Andy Bechtolsheim liked the idea, and in April 2011 created the Open Compute Project incorporating the Open Compute Project Foundation.

OCP added members at a decent clip, and big hardware-makers like Quanta and Inspur happily made OCP-compliant kit they sold to members and anyone else who fancied the idea of running hardware designed to work at hyperscale.

Buyers did not rush to use OCP hardware. The organisation's own estimates, detailed in a white paper [PDF] released last week, suggest that cloud operators acquire almost 90 per cent of all servers with open designs, with enterprise users accounting for less than ten per cent and communications services providers accounting for the rest. The organisation predicts that by 2025 enterprise sales will account for ten per cent of open-design server market.

Those numbers include all open designs, because OCP has competition. Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and other Chinese hyperscalers participate in a rival Open Data Center Committee, while LinkedIn and Equinix prefer the "Open19" effort – which moved to be hosted by the Linux Foundation in April 2021.

OCP kit has, however, run up some decent numbers. A February 2020 Market Impact Assessment [PDF] that covered the first three quarters of 2019 found that OCP hardware accounted for $3.6 billion of total spending on servers, storage, network kit, racks, power products and related peripherals. That figure amounted to 2.5 per cent of total hardware expenditure made by companies that weren't OCP participants.

While that market share was small, the document reported 40 per cent year-on-year growth, and predicted that in the year 2023 OPC kit would hold 5.5 per cent of the market and generate $11.8 billion in revenue for vendors. Analyst firm Gartner has similar numbers: its 2021 Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing suggests that cloud-optimised hardware is relevant to between one and five per cent of buyers.

One more item brings us up to date with OCP. In September 2020, Intel nominated Rebecca Weekly as its rep to the OCP board. Weekly is Chipzilla's veep, general manager, and senior principal engineer for hyperscale strategy and execution at Intel.

In July 2021, Weekly became OCP Chair and last week she penned a post titled "Introducing OCP 2.0!"

"While OCP continues to cover all aspects of modular hardware design … there has been growing interest in forward-looking initiatives such as open hardware, chiplets, cooling and software solutions for broad community collaboration, to accelerate innovation and enable scale through ecosystem adoption," she wrote. The new strategy is the result of that growing interest.

The strategy has two aims. The first is titled "Meet the Market" and has the following four goals:

  • Modularity – Deliver scalable, modular components, and open interfaces to enable vanity-free hardware development;
  • At-Scale Operations – Provide common, secure manageability across platforms at cloud scale and deliver solutions that can be leveraged from the cloud to the edge;
  • Sustainability – Increase standardisation on metrics for utilisation, supply-side resource consumption, and OCP-certified sustainable design practices and operating modes;
  • Integrated Solutions – Improve scale adoptions of OCP design through streamlined certifications of vertical solution stacks.

The second aim is titled "Seed Future Innovation" and has the following goals:

  • Optics – Lead in defining market requirements for process and technology transitions for optimal convergence;
  • Open Silicon – Define interfaces for future co-packaging to enable best-in-class components from the silicon up and drive tools and reference platform standards;
  • AI – Scale AI in the marketplace and lead innovation and market adoption of AI/ML by building standardised infrastructure solutions for AI training at scale, AI inferencing, and ubiquity AI;
  • Cooling – Deliver best-in-class, advanced cooling solutions, sustainable immersion cooling and cold plate designs that support use cases from cloud to edge.

"This journey of evolving OCP's strategy and goals with the OCP 2.0 framework is exciting," Weekly wrote. "Shifting our Community's focus to not only address our current market needs, but also help drive the future of open-source hardware innovation is critical to the success of the overall information technology industry."

Open innovation is of course critical to the technology industry and OCP has shown its contributions can matter to hyperscalers. Whether it can start to set wider agendas remains to be seen.

Weekly signed off on a hopeful rather than confident note:

"I look forward to seeing what we will deliver with the newly defined OCP 2.0 charter and the next decade of open compute," she wrote. ®

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