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So what exactly are the advantages of Open Compute based hardware?

Congratulations! You’d did it! Finally your CIO decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. He may not yet be completely sold on your ideas about innovation and Open Compute Project. But at least he now wants you to prepare a slide deck that discusses the benefits for your organization of using OCP based hardware.

So here you are, in front of your computer. Ready to come up with a number of very convincing slides. Where do you start?

3 Major advantages

There are so many advantages of using OCP based open source hardware. So I thought it might be a good idea to help you out by grouping them together a bit. Because in our vision OCP based hardware and OCP based datacenter infrastructures offer three major benefits:

  • Much more flexibility and performance
  • Drastically lower costs
  • Lower energy consumption

Benefit #1 – Increased flexibility and performance

One of the major advantages of OCP based hardware is the fact that each and every company is allowed to download existing design files and use them to start building products. These companies are also allowed to optimize a design or add extra functionality to it. As long as they publish these designs to the website of the community.

So how does this work? Let’s say you work for a large telecom operator that needs a specialized piece of IT gear. The OCP website hosts a lot of information on equipment that has already been designed and might even already be available as a real-life product. If you can’t find the right solution but you did a design internally you are perfectly free to add your own designs. Or you might want to start a discussion in a project team about your needs and maybe work together with like-minded telecom companies and for example a manufacturer who is interested in building products based on these ideas.

That gives an IT department or a datacenter team a lot of choices. At first that might be a bit overwhelming. Because there is a lot of OCP based IT equipment out there that at first may look more or less the same and only when we look closer we see small but meaningful differences.

A typical IT department or datacenter may need some time to feel comfortable with such an approach. Because that is not what we are used to. Let’s be honest, as IT and data center specialists we are much more accustomed to adjusting our own ideal technical solutions to what our IT vendor has available in his product portfolio. But in the end that is not what we want. We need the best possible solution for our problem or challenge. So the large number of different options and possibilities offered by open source hardware is actually a major benefit.

And once you understand how OCP works and what great products and solutions become available to you when you start implementing OCP based designs you will no doubt come to the realization that open source hardware (and software) offer superior flexibility and performance. And to be honest, there is only one reason why that is: open source hardware totally fits your own unique requirements.

By the way: OCP is perceived by many datacenter professionals and IT specialists as an open source hardware project. That is not an entirely correct way of looking at OCP. Because a lot of projects within OCP also design software – for example for datacenter management. Or so they can add extra functionality to OCP based switches. There are many more examples of OCP projects that are as much about software as they are about hardware.

Benefit #2 – Substantially lower costs

This is an interesting one. Because obviously calculating the costs of a datacenter infrastructure is a complex matter. And it wouldn’t be fair to state that – for example – ‘OCP hardware is always 50% cheaper than traditional IT hardware’. That is not how it works.

What we can say though is that the open source approach of OCP has led to a large number of hardware solutions that perfectly fit specific use cases. The classic example I hear a lot when talking to OCP specialists is that a lot of traditional IT products are not optimized for the ultimate goal a customer buys the equipment for. In other words, traditional hardware often has a number of components or features on board that might not fit your needs. For example, why use dedicated power supply units per server when it is much more advantageous to combine all those individual PSU’s into one large rack based power supply? Why add graphic chips to servers that do not need to support graphical user interfaces?

So by optimizing the design of hardware for specific use cases you are able to loose a lot of components that you might not need anyway.

That gives you an interesting cost benefit. Obviously you do not have to pay for components or features that are not designed into the server. But also management & control of open source hardware becomes much more efficient. Because you do not have to manage unnecessary and unwanted components and functionality. Plus a lot of OCP hardware is designed in such a way that managing a large numbers of systems becomes very easy.

That means that using OCP based hardware to support your applications typically requires a lot less manpower. And please do not underestimate the financial impact of this benefit. Because we are not talking about – for example – employing 100 systems managers in a traditional datacenter environment versus 99 in an OCP based facility. No, we are looking at 1000 in a traditional facility versus 5 or 10 in an OCP based facility. Benefits like that are what make OCP based hardware often financially very attractive as well.

Benefit #3 – Lower energy consumption

Why did you not include lower energy costs as a benefit of OCP based hardware, you may ask.

Well, that certainly is an important benefit of using OCP hardware. Like we have seen in the previous blog post about OCP Facebook’s first open source hardware datacenter uses 38% less energy. But these days energy savings are not so much about costs (however important financial benefits might be). Lowering the amount of energy an organization uses is now much more a matter of brand value. And how your customers view you. Are you a traditional company that is simply focused on doing as much business as possible, no matter what the impact of your success on the environment might be? Or are you an organization that is well aware of what modern societies require of them? Like lowering as much as they can the resources they use – wether that is energy or materials or water?

OCP hardware is very much optimized for specific goals. So yes, they consume energy. But their design is fully optimized and OCP based products are stripped of all unnecessary components and features. You may also throw into the equation the fact that the ‘World of OCP’ is very much about continuous innovation and I think you will agree with me that right now OCP based hardware gives you the best options of buying and deploying IT equipment that uses the lowest possible amount of energy.

Tailor-made solutions

So there you have it: 3 major benefits of using OCP based hardware. Beneath these 3 topics is a world of extra benefits. But these are very much relative to your specific IT environment.

So designing open source hardware into your IT infrastructure and calculating the benefits of using OCP hardware in your environment is very much a tailor-made project. That is not always easy. But we are here to help. If we in any way can assist you in understanding OCP based designs or how to do the calculations to figure out the impact of OCP on your own infrastructure, please let us know!

Stephan Harren is Director of Operations at maincubes.

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