Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, June 14, 2021

Microsoft Releases Cloud Hardware Specs 

(Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft Corp. launched an open source initiative aimed at forging future hyperscale cloud hardware designs and a development template for open datacenter servers. However, its power specifications differ from other members of the Open Compute Project (OCP).

The company (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced a datacenter server effort this week called Project Olympus in conjunction with OCP. The effort builds on earlier contributions to the open source effort for server and datacenter designs used to run its Azure cloud. Facebook, Rackspace (NYSE: RAX) and Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) formed the OCP Foundation in 2011 to push open source hardware development in datacenters.

"This is a significant moment as we usher in a new era of open source hardware development at cloud speed," Kushagra Vaid, general manager of Azure hardware infrastructure at Microsoft, noted in a blog post.

Adopting an open source framework widely used in the software community, Vaid said Microsoft would contribute its next generation cloud hardware designs that he said were about 5o percent complete. "By sharing designs that are actively in development, Project Olympus will allow the community to contribute to the ecosystem by downloading, modifying and forking the hardware design just like open source software," Vaid said.

The server and datacenter building blocks to be contributed to OCP by Microsoft include a universal motherboard, a 1U/2U server chassis along with a universal rack power distribution unit as well as a high-density storage capability. The open hardware template is intended to promote datacenter interoperability. To that end, the open hardware project also includes a standard rack management card.

The modular building blocks are intended to meet specific datacenter configurations, Microsoft said. "We believe Project Olympus is the most modular and flexible cloud hardware design in the datacenter industry," Vaid added. "We intend for it to become the foundation for a broad ecosystem of compliant hardware products developed by the OCP community.

The server chassis interfaces for mechanical and power connections have been released to the OCP's GitHub branch along with specifications for the universal motherboard and power distribution. The rack system will be released in the next few weeks, Vaid said.

The Microsoft initiative follows the contribution of an open cloud server specification to OCP in 2014.

Among the questions raised by OCP members in response to the Microsoft open hardware initiative are lingering concerns over power consumption and whether the Microsoft modular design is more energy efficient than previous datacenter designs.

Microsoft's Project Olympus specifies a 12-volt power supply despite earlier calls from Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and chipmakers to shift to 48-volt servers to help reduce datacenter power consumption. Google joined the Facebook-backed OCP earlier this year, contributing an energy-saving 48-volt server rack design.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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