The Open Compute Project is quickly gaining ground

The hyperscale-optimized data center gear is expected to top $10 billion in sales in three years.

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Eight years ago, Facebook launched the Open Compute Project (OCP), an open-source hardware initiative to design the most energy-efficient server gear for massive, hyperscale data centers. The promise was flexibility of hardware and software and designs for greater power efficiency.

Very quickly, Intel, Rackspace, Goldman Sachs and Sun Microsystems' co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim joined with Facebook to launch the OCP project, with Microsoft joining in 2014.

The project has hummed along quietly with no sales figures until now, thanks to supply chain market research specialists IHS Markit. It surveyed both Facebook, Microsoft, and Rackspace, as founding partners, and looked at sales to customers beyond those three.

Among the preliminary findings:

  • Sales to non-board members (Facebook/Microsoft/Rackspace) in 2017 was $1.16 billion, just shy of the original forecast of $1.18 billion.
  • Non-board revenue in 2018 is forecast to reach $2.56 billion, compared to a forecast of $1.84 billion, with year-over-year growth of 120 percent.
  • Non-board revenue in 2022 is expected to climb to $10.7 billion, with a CAGR of 56 percent.

Now, compared to the $127 billion data center hardware market in 2017, $2.56 billion is a rounding error, but it’s still a good showing given there is minimal input from the big four (Dell, HPE, Lenovo, and Cisco).

OCP hardware comes from a variety of Taiwanese hardware vendors, according to Cliff Grossner, the executive director of research and analysis at IHS Markit's cloud and data center research practice. These include vendors such as Wiwynn, Quanta Computer, Edgecore Networks, and Delta. But there are non-Taiwan vendors, such as Ericsson, that are also making gear.

That’s not to say there is no interest from the big players. “For the most part, on the server side, we don’t see much interest,” said Grossner. “But on the networking side, Dell and HPE have OCP certified lines, we’re already seeing Cisco and others starting to use their silicon, and Mellanox has a good line of open network switches.”

The primary customers are tier-two cloud service providers and non-hyperscale data center vendors, as well as telcos, finance, automotive, manufacturing, and government. Grossner said government purchases surpassed finance this year, while telcos will eventually surge past the rest by 2022.

In a study done last year by IHS, the top three drivers for customers are cost reduction, power efficiency, and flexibility in terms of selecting the features they wanted. Customers can order specific designs, assuming they have the purchasing scale to justify the customization.

However, Grossner said the sample size wasn’t large enough or deployed long enough to get a good measure of the OCP equipment vs. standard hardware. It was “just anecdotal discussions” at this point.

How companies are using OCP equipment

The customizations are often in the software, not the hardware. For instance, the London Internet Exchange wanted to add features that did deeper packet inspection to better understand when things were going well or problems with packet stream. It couldn’t do that with the closed network operating systems of other vendors.

For large data center operators, software written to manage the hardware often breaks past a certain point and they just write their own. So they didn’t need that feature in their hardware.

The reason telcos are so keen on OCP hardware, he said, is it gives them the ability to quickly deploy new service. “Want to drive more automation in their networks and tune them with automation and they get that more from OCP hardware than from closed box vendors,” said Grossner.

While hyperconverged infrastructure is very popular in some circles, other like the disaggregated systems like OCP gear because they have access to the software, since it is all open source and can see what’s in there,” he said.

The OCP and IHS Markit will release the full results of the market research at the Annual OCP Global Summit, which takes place March 14-15 at San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California.

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