Facebook Introduces Open Rack Standard

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Facebook’s Open Rack spec looks to make data centres more efficient, as tech giants jump on the Open Compute train

Facebook is cracking on with its Open Compute Project, introducing the Open Rack, which is designed to bring cheaper hardware to IT teams, whilst freeing them from vendor lock-in and giving them some more efficient kit.

By 2013, Facebook is planning to merge the standard with Project Scorpio, a similar spec being developed by Chinese search giant Baidu and web portal Tencent, whilst HP and Dell have pledged to create server and storage boxes to fit with the new rack design.

The bigger the rack, the better

The Open Rack standard sticks with the 24-inch column width as seen in data centres across the world, but the equipment space measures in at 21-inches, bigger than the traditional 19-inch space.

It comes with a slightly taller rack unit too, called an OpenU, or OU, which is 48mm high. A traditional rack unit is 44.5mm. According to Facebook, this allows for increases in airflow as well as better cable and thermal management.

Facebook thinks the extra room allowed in Open Rack deployments will make for greater efficiency. “For example, the wider equipment bay allows for implementations with three motherboards or five 3.5-inch disk drives side by side in one chassis,” said Open Compute’s Giovanni Coglitore, in a blog post.

“And the wider rack is much more space efficient than the 19-inch rack, which, once you factor in the sidewalls and rails, results in just 17.5-inch for equipment for about 73 percent space efficiency, versus the Open Rack delivering all 21-inch out of the 24-inch available for 87.5 percent space efficiency.

The rack standard “seeks to right some historic wrongs in traditional rack design” and will challenge the barriers laid out by the EIA 310-D specification. “EIA 310-D standardised the width between the inner rails in a rack, but left other rack specifications — such as height, depth, mounting and cabling schemes, and connectors — to the manufacturers, each of whom came up with their own proprietary designs,” said Coglitore.

“This resulted in gratuitous differentiation in server and rack designs, locking consumers into specific vendors and their implementations.”

Facebook launched Open Compute in April 2011, releasing low-energy data centre and server specifications used in its Oregon data centre, effectively open sourcing the custom hardware it was using in the facility. Dell and HP said they planned to adopt and develop the standards, promises that are now bearing fruit. Some other major tech vendors have joined the project, including Intel, AMD, Asus and Red Hat.

The initiative is currently holding its third conference in San Antonio, Texas. Frank Frankovsky, vice president of hardware design and supply chain for Facebook and president and chairman of the Open Computing board of directors, has welcomed a slew of new Open Computer members, including  Salesforce.com, VMware and Canonical.

Frankovsky outlined some fresh proposed projects, including a Facebook design for a “vanity-free storage server”, codenamed Knox. AMD and Intel are working on similar ideas, offering up concepts of highly efficient motherboards aimed at the specific needs of financial services companies, codenamed Roadrunner and Decathlete respectively.

“This is tremendous progress for such a short period of time. But even more gratifying is the way the Open Compute Project is inspiring both consumers and suppliers to think differently about this industry,” Frankovsky said, in a separate blog post.

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