A peek inside Microsoft Azure’s open-source server and rack designs

Project Olympus has been donated to the Open Compute Project

microsoft olympus

Microsoft this week has open sourced the design specifications of servers and racks that make up its hyperscale Azure cloud data centers, contributing the information to the Open Compute Project (OCP).

OCP was founded in 2011 and now includes member companies such as Facebook, Intel, Google, Apple, Dell, Rackspace, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Goldman Sachs, Fidelity and Bank of America, who share design specifications for hardware used in their data centers. OCP is meant to be an open-source community where member companies share how they buy and configure components used to make data center equipment.

Microsoft joined OCP in 2014 and has contributed server and data center designs for its Azure cloud. This week the company announced that it will contribute Project Olympus, which are a series of hardware design specifications for “next-generation hyperscale hardware design,” the company said in a blog post.

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“With this announcement you have one of the industry’s leading cloud providers sharing what they think the optimal cloud server design looks like,” says Ed Anderson, Research vice president, Cloud Services at Gartner. “Microsoft is deploying servers based on OCP in their cloud data centers, which provides a pretty good guide for hardware vendors to target that market.” Microsoft says about 90% of servers it buys for Azure data centers are based on OCP specifications.

Project Olympus includes the following components:

  • New universal motherboard;
  • High-availability power supply with included batteries;
  • 1U/2U server chassis;
  • High-density storage expansion;
  • A new universal rack power distribution unit (PDU) for global data center interoperability;
  • And a standards compliant rack management card.

Kushagra Vaid, general manager of Azure hardware infrastructure, wrote in a blog post that open source hardware sharing is not as agile and iterative as open source software. Microsoft is hoping to change that by submitting server and rack designs when they are about 50% complete.

“By sharing designs that are actively in development, Project Olympus will allow the community to contribute to the ecosystem by downloading, modifying, and forking the hardware design just like open source software,” Vaid wrote.

Anderson, the Gartner analyst, says the more mega-scale cloud vendors are willing to share about their hardware specifications, the better it will be for the broader industry. “This immediately benefits hardware providers through the sharing of technology advancements,” he notes. “It also sheds some additional light into the server capabilities Microsoft is using to power their cloud data centers. While there may be some downstream benefits for enterprise hardware buyers, the real beneficiaries are those building scale-out services.”

This story, "A peek inside Microsoft Azure’s open-source server and rack designs " was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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