New Project Puts Open Source Spin on Data Center Design

A new industry group hopes to improve the design and construction of data centers through the application of open source principles.

Dubbed the “Open Source Data Center Initiative,” the group was formed last week by GreenM3 along with the University of Missouri and ARG Investments.

The University is providing administrative support, while ARG hopes to implement some of the resulting ideas at its Ewing Industry Park location. Nokia’s Michael Manos, vice president of service operations, is serving as an adviser.

‘An Open and Free Engineering Framework’

“This Open Source Data Center Initiative is focused around execution,” Manos explained in a blog post after the announcement. “It’s focused around putting together an open and free engineering framework upon which data center designs, technologies and the like can be quickly put together.”

The group also hopes to standardize the approaches that both end-users and engineering firms use in the data center industry, Manos added.

Education is a persistent challenge when it comes to the creation of new data centers, Manos noted.

“Some engineering and construction firms are incented ‘not to change’ or implement new approaches,” he wrote. “The cover of complexity allows customers to remain in the dark while innovation is stifled. It’s how you maximize profit, and keep yourself in a profitable position.”

Defining an API

On the other hand, Linux contributors submit enhancements and features and pull together specific build packages for distribution. “One could see such things emerging in the data center engineering realm,” Manos said.

Working along those open source lines, “engineering firms or even individual engineers can propose technologies and designs, specific solution vendors could pitch technologies for inclusion,” and the result would be to “remove much mystery behind the work that happens in designing facilities,” he wrote.

The group is now working on defining a data center application programming interface, or API, according to GreenM3.

‘Incredible Value’

The idea of sharing data-center experiences and best practices is actually not new, Jay Lyman, analyst for enterprise software with the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

The 451 Group’s Uptime Institute, in fact, “is a perfect example,” Lyman said. “There we see a community of data-center operators that find incredible value from openly sharing and collaborating on the best ways to run large data centers.”

That sharing and collaboration is “consistent with the collaboration, transparency and overall openness of open source software,” he noted. “It can contribute to software and processes that are more broadly supported and thereby improved, are faster and easier to develop and are also more flexible.

“If this type of initiative can bring those advantages to the data center, it makes perfect sense,” Lyman said.

Toward Standard Design

Indeed, “I think the idea is certainly interesting,” Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT , told LinuxInsider.

A recurring issue in data center construction is “not only are facilities more or less custom-designed, but the fact that server storage and networking have changed so rapidly that it’s tough for companies to get a lot of great years out of their data centers,” King noted.

If a data center is delayed, in fact, parts of the design can even be going out of date by the time the equipment is finally deployed, he added.

Nevertheless, “especially with the continuing rise of industry-standard servers, I do think we may be approaching a time when certain kinds of data centers could use a standard design that allows reuse or refurbishment.”

‘Official, Above-Board Adoption’

The creation of the Open Source Data Center Initiative is also indicative of a broader trend, Lyman asserted.

“I think this has something to do with a more official, above-board adoption of open source software and open source practices, which previously sneaked into enterprises and data centers quietly through developers and teams, typically,” he explained. “Now we’re seeing governments, universities and enterprises adopting more proactive, policy-based approaches to considering and using open source software.”

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