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Microsoft debuts Project Olympus to boost open source datacentre hardware development

Microsoft wants to give open source datacentre hardware developers earlier access to its designs to speed up the time it takes to bring new products to market with Project Olympus

Microsoft wants the agile and collaborative principles of open source software development to be applied to datacentre hardware, through the launch of its Project Olympus initiative.

The project will see Microsoft expand on its involvement with the Open Compute Project to create a hardware development model that is more open, collaborative and gives contributors access to product designs earlier than before.

As such, the software giant has committed to giving members of the Open Compute Project access to its half-completed datacentre hardware blueprints, while the norm in the industry is to release the designs when they are near to 100% complete.

The Open Compute Project was founded by social networking giant Facebook in 2011, with Microsoft joining the fold in 2014, to allow datacentre hardware suppliers to share best practice and facility designs to help inform how they build out their sites.

Speaking at Datacentre Dynamics Europe Zettastructure in London, Kushagra Vaid, general manager for Azure Hardware Infrastructure at Microsoft, said the strategy is geared towards ensuring the open source community gets an earlier say in how designs should proceed.

“In the course of working closely with the [Open Compute Project] community, we came to realise there were a lot of improvements that could be made to how open hardware is designed,” he said.

“With open source software, somebody starts a project, puts it on Github, people can join in and there’s a lot of great evolution that happens. With open source hardware, a lot of contributions are made when the designs are very close to complete.”

The knock-on effect of this is that, by the time the community gets a chance to review the proposed hardware design and make their contribution to it, the time it takes to launch the final product can be delayed.

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There is also a risk that keeping what they are working on under wraps for so long into the design process could lead to duplication of effort in the community, which is another area Microsoft is hoping to address with Project Olympus.

“It’s a very new model. To my knowledge, at least at the cloud scale we operate on, no one else has taken this step of being so open [by] revealing what’s happening behind the scenes for the next generation of hardware, and opening that up to the community,” he added.

To get the ball rolling on Project Olympus, the company has released details of the basic “building blocks” of its hardware design, which include a universal motherboard, 1U/2U server chassis and high-density storage expansion.

It also features a universal rack power distribution unit (PDU) and a standards compliance rack management card.

These individual components are designed to work together or independently, and so datacentre operators can meet the specific demands of customers and their workloads.

“We intend for it to become the foundation for a broad ecosystem of compliant hardware products developed by the Open Compute Project community,” said Vaid, in a follow-up blog post.

The company hopes to have the design 75% complete by March 2017, and then – with the help of its contributory design partners – ready to ship to manufacturers by the middle of 2017.

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