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ELI5: Open Compute Project — Advancing Hardware Technologies Through Open Source

September 7, 2021ByJessica Lin

While the concept of leveraging open source communities to help build robust and efficient projects is quite common in software, applying open source principles and practice to hardware at scale was almost unheard of. In April of 2011, Facebook launched the Open Compute Project (OCP) with help from other computing leaders with the purpose to share, promote and foster innovations in the datacenter hardware community in an open and efficient manner. The launch of OCP marked the creation of the world’s first large scale open source hardware project.

In this blog post, we explain the Open Compute Project in a way that is simple to understand (or as it’s commonly known online, ELI5. If you're interested in learning by watching or listening, check out the linked video about OCP on our Facebook Open Source Youtube channel.

Why Open Compute?

The Open Compute Project or OCP is a non-profit organization focused on sharing designs and best practices for data center products.

Let’s take a look at how it all started. In 2009, Facebook was growing exponentially, serving millions of global users. In order to continue serving the growing number of people on its platform, it needed to reimagine multiple facets of its data centers to control costs and energy consumption. Facebook began an internal project called “Project Freedom” which focused on redesigning an efficient data center from the ground up, re-envisioning the software, servers, racks, power supplies and cooling.

In 2011, Facebook publicly shared these designs to the world. It also partnered with Goldman Sachs, Andy Bechtolsheim, Intel and Rackspace to found the Open Compute Project whose mission is to apply the benefits of open source and open collaboration to hardware and rapidly increase the pace of innovation in data centers.

How is the Open Compute Project maintained?

The OCP Foundation maintains a number of projects including data center cooling, rack designs, server designs and storage. A full list of OCP projects can be found on their website.

Because OCP is open-sourced, it welcomes contributions from the community. In order to maintain a level of consistency and excellence, all contributions and project decisions are measured against four key tenets - openness, efficiency, scale and impact. A full explanation of the tenets can be found in this slide deck here.

When presenting to the technical committee, each contribution must show how it adheres to these tenets. OCP does not accept a specification or contribution unless there is a viable route to market (for example, a supplier is enabled within 120 days). Adhering to these tenets enables OCP to continue creating products that impact and move the market forward rather than just devolving into a library of paper specifications.

How is the Open Compute Project used today?

The original data center that Facebook had built when it open sourced its data center designs still stands in Prineville, Oregon. Ten years after its inception, OCP is enthusiastically embraced by the industry; now there are over 140 intellectual property (IP) contributions from 22 different companies representing more than 170 products across areas such as servers, storage, networking, interconnects and more.

Outside of Facebook, the list of OCP members includes over 200 companies. OCP is used across a number of telecommunications companies, Cloud Service Providers (CSPs), large web based enterprises (i.e. SaaS), the public sector and in High Performance Computing.

Additional resources to learn more

If you are interested in contributing, check out the ”How to Contribute” guide which discusses the steps to present your idea to the appropriate Project Group, write a spec (OCP Specification Template) and get your product in the OCP marketplace.

To learn more about OCP, visit their website, follow them on Twitter @OpenComputePrj and subscribe to their YouTube Channel.

About the ELI5 series

In a series of short videos, one of our Developer Advocates on the Facebook Open Source team explains a Facebook open source project in a way that is easy to understand and use.

We will write an accompanying blog post (like the one you're reading right now) for each of these videos, which you can find on our YouTube channel.

To learn more about Facebook Open Source, visit our open source site, subscribe to our YouTube channel, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Interested in working with open source at Facebook? Check out our open source-related job postings on our career page by taking this quick survey.