Microsoft manages quite a bit of data for it’s Bing, Windows Azure and Office 365 services and has announced it is quietly utilizing its own server designs, bypassing the products of significant strategic partners like Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Dell. That Microsoft would not want to publicize that they were bypassing their traditional allies is completely understandable, and makes their announcement at the Open Compute Summit in San Jose, California even more surprising. Not only did Microsoft share its previously secret in house server designs, it also announced that it will “open source” these designs and the software, sharing them so that other online entities can use them inside their own data centers as well.
Launched by Facebook in 2011, the Open Compute Project was the result of Facebook’s rapid expansion and the high cost of using off-the-shelf servers to meet their immense data-handling needs. While other large, established players in the market like Apple, Google and Amazon had built data centers around the globe using their own lower cost designs, they each took a proprietary approach was a way to protect a competitive edge. Facebook chose to go the open source route and in so doing it was able to, as Mark Zuckerberg puts it, “blow past what anyone else has done.”
According to Zuckerberg, the utilization of Open Compute Project equipment instead of proprietary products from established server manufacturers has saved the social networking giant $1.2 billion, and with the higher energy efficiency of the open source hardware, Facebook was able to conserve the equivalent annual energy usage of 40,000 homes.
Microsoft has been careful to portray Dell and the HP in a positive light, and while Google and Facebook have their own equipment made by low-cost Asian manufacturers, Microsoft has thus far refused to reveal who has been building their machines. Further, it was announced that Dell and HP would be selling systems based on this open source design, maintaining the ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship these tech giants have long enjoyed together.
After years of trying to maintain control over the whole world of computing, and fighting the notion of open source wherever it could, to the point of being saddled with monumental anti-trust litigation, Microsoft seems to be changing its ways dramatically, as Steve Ballmer exits and new decision makers are coming into place. By sharing its designs and software, Microsoft may push the web forward, helping others build more efficient data centers, while at the same time lowering the cost of producing its custom-built gear, driving its hardware costs lower by increasing its ubiquity.
The open source movement also can benefit Microsoft by helping it sell more software, as the software that underpins Microsoft’s cloud services like Azure is designed to run on these servers, why wouldn’t developers use Microsoft’s software when implementing their own services?
In addition to Microsoft joining the alliance, a similar announcement was made by IBM, bringing the corporate membership within the organization to 150, and includes many tech heavyweights like Advanced Micro Devices and Seagate Technology as well. NationalNet will continue to utilize the best and most efficient servers available at the leading edge of the market to provide our clients with the fastest, most efficient and affordable throughput – whether that evolves into open source servers or not, time will only tell.