Caleb Tennis Open Compute Summit 2013

January 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Open Compute Summit in Santa Clara, CA – I believe this was the third such summit in the past two years. I also attended the one in New York in 2011 where about 300 people attended. This summit blew away everyone’s expectations at around 1900 participants.

open compute project

There was a definite interest in what the Open Compute Project (OCP) is pushing. The first summit was very Facebook centric; this summit was about vendors taking the ideas Facebook has been pushing and moving the mainstream forward. While I still think we are in the early days of the value of Open Compute and its offerings, the interest is extremely high and vendors are definitely taking notice.

Silicon Photonics

The one major announcement that caught my attention was Intel’s release of a concept they are calling silicon photonics. The idea is that they have created a light based data bus using their traditional silicon wafer and die plant systems. This allows them to build traditional silicon chip as a light source at a fraction of a cost of older traditional methods. This means they can create a backplane data bus, currently at 100Gbps, that provides the interconnect between devices on the motherboard, and present it as both a PCI or Ethernet device to the computer.

I got to see the device and concept first hand, but the initial information I was able to glean was mostly marketing. I’m keeping an eye on this space as I think if it comes to fruition it will really push forward motherboard design and the ability for multiple devices to talk to each other in extremely fast ways. In particular, I think about a rack of machines providing big data services, like Hadoop, and not worrying any more about data locality, since data can be moved between machines so fast it’s not an issue anymore.

Motherboard/Rack Specs

One of the first major announcements of Open Compute a few years ago was a rethought motherboard and rack design that threw away many traditional 19″ rack concepts. This design pushed the envelope, but was really only practical for data centers who had been designed to take advantage of it. Since at that time only Facebook had such a data center, the design itself wasn’t particularly useful other than to show what kinds of advances could be made if you had the opportunity to rethink from the ground up.

At this summit, it was evident the manufacturers are motivated to make it work. There were at least half a dozen vendors there making Open Compute Rack and motherboard designs. Again, I don’t explicitly see who the buyers are for those products, other than Facebook and now Rackspace, but I think that now that the vendors are taking charge of these designs we’ll start seeing bits and pieces being taken back and incorporated into normal motherboard and chassis designs over the coming years, which will only be a good thing for all of us.


Both shows were expertly run, and the presentations were very interesting. I’m always intrigued to learn about the way Facebook operates their data centers at scale and how they tackle big data problems, and the presentations by their engineers were excellent. Getting to see the vendors and how they are taking the project and its feedback extremely seriously is, frankly, refreshing. I am looking forward to seeing these technology advances continued to be incorporated into mainstream server designs and their utility growing for the “rest of us.”

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