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New open standard seeks home in the enterprise data center rack

If the Open Compute Project is too big and scary for your enterprise, a new open standard for data center hardware has emerged to appeal to data centers big and small.

A populist version of hardware could be coming to a data center rack near you, if a newly introduced open standard gains steam.

The Open19 project, recently launched by professional networking company LinkedIn Corp., aims to introduce a simpler open design standard for building storage, networking and servers that are interoperable and interchangeable in the most common enterprise data center rack environment -- and, thus, appeal to a much broader base than other efforts.

Open19's goal is to spur more servers and related equipment that work in any Electronic Industries Association 19-inch data center rack, with any cooling and power environment. Buyers could select blade servers from multiple suppliers that can interoperate within a single chassis and avoid equipment lock-in. Vendors include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Hyve Solutions, Mellanox Technologies and Wiwynn Corp.

This approach to consensus building highlights the idiosyncrasies that smaller enterprises must deal with in the data center, said Pete Sclafani, COO and co-founder of 6connect Inc., a data center consultant in San Francisco. The project promises to reduce the shared hardware in a rack by half and remove power supply units in the servers, which would instead be served by direct current distribution at 12 volts.

"With new technology coming in, we don't need to change our infrastructure; all we need to do is to insert new types of bricks or new types of storage, which will fit into the same form factor," he said.

Additionally, backing by a large company, such as LinkedIn, can help pull in unified feedback to drive improvements in hardware that will influence power consumption, integration and build time for commodity servers.

With new technology coming in, we don't need to change our infrastructure; all we need to do is to insert new types of bricks or new types of storage, which will fit into the same form factor.
Yuval Bacharprincipal engineer of global infrastructure architecture and strategy, LinkedIn Corp.

The idea for Open19 came when LinkedIn transitioned from being a large enterprise data center operator, with tens of thousands of servers, to a mega data center operator, with hundreds of thousands of servers, said Yuval Bachar, principal engineer of global infrastructure architecture and strategy at LinkedIn.

Two of the problems the company faced were more quickly integrating technology from different suppliers at a scale 10 to 50 times its previous size, and a common design that would work across its smallest environment -- a 16-server MicroPoP -- to its new 8 megawatt data center in Hillsboro, Ore.

There is room in the market for different approaches to open standards in the data center, but there must be tangible benefits, said Jonathan Rosenson, vice president of quality assurance and strategic initiatives at Expedient  in Pittsburgh. He acknowledged potential skepticism about adoption of another data center hardware standardization approach, especially one proposed by a large software-as-a-service provider.

Open19 may only apply to a limited number of organizations other than LinkedIn, he said, and the key to wider acceptance may lie in the software to manage the workloads. Having Open19 based on the 19-inch form factors will certainly enable greater use in cloud edge data centers, Rosenson said.

Establishing a hardware design around a common data center form factor is only half the battle in equaling or beating the efficiencies of the public cloud, according to Peter Christy, research director at analyst firm 451 Research.

"They will also have to find ways to provide and operate software platforms that are equally and adequately different from public cloud, and those challenges remain," he said.

Can Open19 live with OCP?

At first blush, some buyers may see Open19's rack trying to do much the same thing as the Open Compute Project (OCP), which aims to standardize hardware designs for equipment in a 21-inch rack form factor for hyperscale data center operators.

"Open19 brings a level of pragmatism to the hardware side and balances out the big vision of the Open Compute Project," Sclafani said.

Bachar, who used OCP hardware while working at Facebook, said he looked at OCP for LinkedIn, but it wasn't a good fit for the company's diverse environment of systems and wouldn't physically fit into some of LinkedIn's data centers.

In fact, OCP has an Open Bridge rack for data centers using a 19-inch data center rack to transition to 21-inch OCP racks, said Corey Bell, co-CEO at OCP, adding that OCP has other things in the works to be accepted at the 19-inch size.

Nevertheless, Bell said he thinks the market is large enough to accept more than one open data center hardware design. He said he does not see Open19 as a competitor, but as better suited for brownfield deployments, where 19-inch racks are most commonly found. OCP, by contrast, primarily emphasizes "greenfield deployments, starting with something new and saying, 'Let's whiteboard it and figure out where we are,'" he said. 

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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