Commentary

Facebook's Open Compute: What Does It Mean?

One of the top stories in technology yesterday (not to mention social media) was Facebook's announcement of the Open Compute Project.

 

A collaborative effort led by Facebook to build more efficient, cost-effective data centers -- the first being their own in Prineville, OR -- the initiative is all about economizing. We're talking servers unadorned, built without screws, with ethernet-powered LED lighting, passive cooling, the works. They've released all of the server and data center specs and designs and have opened it up to feedback.

So what does it all mean?

Well, in our business as marketers, it's unlikely that it will affect us directly. This type of project is aimed at corporations with large data centers -- and I'm talking racks upon racks of servers. When we need a server for a campaign or even a site, we're usually looking at one or two of these machines, not rooms of them.

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Some of our clients may benefit, if they house their own data -- or choose to start doing so -- but it's unlikely that we'd be involved in that type of operational decision. Companies like Rackspace, which offer this type of hardware as a service, might become more efficient and pass the savings on, but that won't change the way we do business.

It's the spirit of innovation and collaboration that launched this open project that makes it remarkable. Facebook has taken a problem in an area where there's been little recent innovation, broken it down, and found a better solution. Their hardware is cheaper, uses less materials and energy, and efficiently cools itself. What else can the principles of their architecture be applied to? What other problems should we be taking a closer look at?

While innovation is always happening in one form or another, there are moments of disruptive change that have acted as a springboard. This may be one of those moments. The openness of this project means that others can take what Facebook has built -- a great start by any measure -- and make it better. If two heads are better than one, opening the project to millions only increases the potential for something revolutionary to happen.

What does Facebook get out of it? Well, in addition to the benefit of having the general public work on optimizing their hardware, Facebook distinguishes itself as being committed to technological advancement. Their hardware is not their secret sauce. That's not where they're making money. So they're sharing. They're buying goodwill among the open-source community, which is never a bad thing, and may someday be truly significant.

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