The rise of the Open Compute Project

The open compute project (OCP) was founded by Facebook back in 2011. However, it started 2 years earlier in 2009 as an internal project to design the world’s most energy-efficient datacentre, as at this time Facebook was growing exponentially. A small dedicated research team of engineers, led by Amir Michael, were based in the basement of a building in Palo Alto. The results of the 2 years, as demonstrated in the Prineville Oregon datacentre, were clear:

Open Compute Project facebook napkin

This napkin documents a first draft of Facebook’s datacentre electrical system

“It was 38% more energy efficient to build and 24% less expensive to run than the company’s previous facilities.”

The engineers were given a clean sheet and so could change any part of the entire datacentre ecosystem. This included:


  • Using a 480-volt electrical distribution system to reduce energy loss
  • Removing anything in their servers that didn’t contribute to efficiency
  • Reusing hot aisle air in winter to heat both the offices and the outside air flowing into the datacentre
  • Eliminating the need for a central uninterruptible power supply


What separates this work out from companies such as Amazon that build their own equipment is that Jonathan Heilier (at the time VP of infrastructure) announced that the plans would be open sourced. Yes, that’s right – the birth of open source hardware. So in 2011 the Open Compute Project Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit. The founding members were Facebook, Intel, Rackspace, Goldman Sachs and Andy Bechtolsheim. Since then Apple, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Lenovo and even Google have joined.

Open source creates a community for the greater good. Well, in the words of OCP:

“The Open Compute Project is a collaborative community focused on redesigning hardware technology to efficiently support the growing demands on compute infrastructure.”

Five years on and the project is going strong and has expanded in many areas. It is on the verge of disrupting the very business model of current networking, for example.

Frank Frankovsky, OCP chairman and president said recently:

“I don’t want to even acknowledge the fact that there is an industry norm that needs to be adhered to. Let’s just blow that the hell up and start over. What I’ve seen over the last four years in this community, is that people are listening,”

Project timeline

Since 2011 there have been a number of significant hardware releases to the project as detailed here.

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