Hard 'committals', Microsoft open sources cloud hardware

As we know, the open source community contribution model of software application development and programming revolves around the community at the centre and its ability to augment, extend and sometimes even skew or fork the central code base in whichever repository it resides in. This is ‘easy’ in software terms because coders will simply access and download the code they want to interact with and then offer contributions as they see fit.

In the world of open source hardware, it’s not quite the same (well, chunks of hardware are involved after all)… but it is pretty close.

Microsoft’s Future Decoded

Speaking at Microsoft’s Future Decoded 2016 event in London this week was Kushagra Vaid in his role as GM for Azure Hardware Infrastructure.

Vaid explains that hardware designs are (as with software) hosted and posted on GitHub as the repository of choice (the open source nature of GitHub is relevant here of course) — but of course open hardware engineers can’t post a physical server or some other chunk of real computer in any form.

“Instead, the engineers in this case might post a schematic or system design diagram to detail where resources should be allocated in a hardware design right down to the location and format of the power units,” Vaid told the Computer Weekly Open Source Inside blog.

Intelligent graphical tool

Would it not be better if some graphical tool existed (with essential underlying meta intelligence to define what piece of hardware does what and its interrelationships to other hardware) that would work by simple drag-and-drop?

“Yes, this is exactly what is needed and the community is working on producing something like this. For now we are able to view the content posted using a variety of 3D viewing tools,” said Vaid.

Vaid points us to his official blog where he says that in collaboration with the Open Compute Project (OCP), Microsoft is introducing Project Olympus – its next generation hyperscale cloud hardware design and a new model for open source hardware development with the OCP community.

“Microsoft has been a significant and growing contributor to open source projects for the past decade, particularly with Microsoft Azure. In 2014, we began reimagining our Azure hardware through the lens of open source innovation and joined OCP. Our initial contributions were server and datacenter designs that power the Azure hyperscale cloud. We’ve also contributed technologies that showcase the software-defined networking (SDN) principles of speed and scale-out that serve as Azure’s backbone,” writes Vaid.

Vaid says that his team has learned a tremendous amount from its deep collaboration with the OCP Foundation and the open source community over the past few years. An important realisation here being that open source hardware development is currently not as agile and iterative as open source software.

He reminds us that 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.

You can read Vaid’s more extended comments on this story here.

Rackspace CTO: we applaud Microsoft

As additional commentary to this story, managed cloud company Rackspace has provided the following commentary written by the firm’s CTO John Engates.

“We applaud Microsoft for its contribution and continued support of Open Compute. It mirrors our own commitment to open source with our long term participation in Open Compute, our recent contribution to OpenPOWER and our continued contribution to OpenStack. It was great to explore the potential of open source during OpenStack Barcelona last week – it seems the whole world is going open. This trend was mirrored in our recent State of Open Source report, showing that an open approach to solving business and technological challenges is no longer just for geeks, with 90% of large companies using some form of open source platform. As the majority of businesses combine open source and closed, proprietary technologies, it’s good to see vendors helping organisations take a ‘best of both worlds’ approach that’s best suited to their needs.

Engates also says that with more and more businesses deriving their value from software, broader acceptance of open source allows more flexibility to be disruptive and scalability to meet today’s competitive environments.

He asserts that open source is used by a large number of market leaders and by adopting the same strategies and tactics as these disruptors, businesses of all sizes can build and launch innovative solutions faster than what’s possible by using closed source technologies in isolation.