Microsoft joins Open Compute Project

Redmond giant makes server specs public in bid to influence future datacentre design

In a move that has surprised observers, Microsoft has thrown its weight behind the Open Compute Project (OCP), an initiative launched in 2011 by Facebook to promote industry collaboration on efficient, open source designs for large-scale datacentres. 

The software giant has made public the specifications of the servers it uses to power global cloud services such as Windows Azure, Office 365 and the Bing search engine.

Speaking on day one of the Open Compute Summit in San Jose, Bill Laing, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president for cloud and enterprise, announced the company was sharing “the complete set of design specs for the most advanced hardware servers we’re employing in our datacentres today”, including computer-aided design (CAD) models, written specifications, documentation and software. 

In a blog post the day before the announcement, Laing wrote: “Microsoft and Facebook, the founder of OCP, are the only cloud service providers to publicly release these server specifications, and the depth of information Microsoft is sharing with OCP is unprecedented. 

The depth of information Microsoft is sharing with OCP is unprecedented

Bill Laing, Microsoft

"As part of this effort, Microsoft Open Technologies is open sourcing the software code we created for the management of hardware operations, such as server diagnostics, power supply and fan control. We would like to help build an open source software community within OCP as well.”

Acknowledging delegates’ surprise at the traditionally fiercely proprietary company’s conversion to openness, Laing told the summit that the decision to join the OCP grew out of its internal drive over the past five years to share datacentre expertise with its existing hardware partners and customers. 

“Why are we doing this? Because we want to drive innovation in cloud computing, datacentre design and operations,” he said. “We think this fits very well with the strategy of OCP and we plan to participate in a meaningful way.”

Clive Longbottom, founder and service director at analyst Quocirca, said he doubted the move was wholly altruistic. 

“By opening up its approach to server design, Microsoft can show what savings can be made at a hardware level through using the designs. It can then build on this to demonstrate what additional value can be gained through using Microsoft operating systems and software on top of a low-cost hardware platform, attempting to head off the open source approaches that it is finding difficult to battle in the service provider markets,” said Longbottom. 

But it could backfire, he added. “If Microsoft’s server design is seen to be better than the rest of the players in the OCP, then it could just find it speeds up open source approaches at a lower cost – which would be a tad embarrassing.”

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