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How Facebook aims to reinvent hardware

Brandon Butler | May 7, 2013
Facebook used to be a company just like many others: It would buy servers, racks and other hardware from vendors like HP and Dell and rent out co-location space from vendors like DuPont Fabros and others.

Facebook used to be a company just like many others: It would buy servers, racks and other hardware from vendors like HP and Dell and rent out co-location space from vendors like DuPont Fabros and others.

But when Facebook got really big, those traditional IT infrastructure components were just not working as well as they could be, leading to wasted money, energy and resources. "We knew we could be more efficient and effective," recalls Frank Frankovsky, the vice president of hardware design and supply chain management at the world's most popular social network.

Frankovsky is responsible for running the infrastructure that supports 1.1 billion users around the globe, 250 billion photos, with 350 million new ones added each day, and about 5.1 billion interactions on the site per day between likes, posts and comments users make. That requires quite a back-end infrastructure to handle all that capacity, and it's Frankovsky's job to ensure the company's data center operations are up to the task.

Frankovsky assembled a small team within Facebook and planted this seed in their heads: "What if we had an opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper," and design Facebook's infrastructure from the utility pole supplying the power down to the server, in the most efficient way possible?

Prototypes were created, they designed servers, storage and networking components and then they built it. The results were more than Frankovsky could have expected: a 38% gain in energy efficiency and a 24% cost savings, and that was on top of "pretty aggressive baselines" the team had already implemented to optimize their co-location space. Frankovsky and the Facebook team got excited about the results to such a point they decided to open source the project.

And hence the Open Compute Foundation (OCP) was born in April 2011. Now, Frankovsky wants to change the way hardware is built for everyone else too.

Facebook is not alone building its own hardware tuned specifically for its needs. Google has famously done this too, but Frankovsky proudly touts that Facebook has been the first to do it in an open source fashion. As the amount of digital data in the world continues to balloon, the need to have more efficient infrastructure will only increase, or else the waste of resources -- power, money and time -- will grow exponentially, Frankovsky argues. Open source is the way to solve this problem, he says.

At Interop, Frankovsky plans to discuss what the OCP has meant for Facebook and where the project is going in the future during a keynote speech he's giving at the show.

While he will detail the future direction of the OCP, it's already evolved in the only two years since it launched. After being founded solely by four people from Facebook, the OCP's most recent summit in Santa Clara in January grew to include some of the biggest names in tech officially singed on to the project. The likes of AMD, Fidelity, HP, Dell, Intel, VMware, Rackspace, Goldman Sachs, Arista, EMC, Broadcom, ARM and Salesforce.com, among others, are all now on board.

 

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