According to Bill Carter, chief technology officer of the Open Compute Project Foundation (OCP), the open-hardware movement can be crucial to helping ensure the success of web-scale IT initiatives.
Here in Part I of this two-part Q&A -- lightly edited for length and clarity -- Carter talks about how the open-hardware movement is helping to enable web-scale efficiency. Next up, in Part 2, Carter speaks about the keys to achieving real web-scale agility.
Telco Transformation: What role is open hardware playing in the web-scale IT movement?
Bill Carter: Well, I think we're playing a couple of very strategic roles. First off, what we're finding is that we provide a forum for engineers to get together that have similar problems, but are not able to come up with a solution for those problems on their own because either it is not cost-effective for them to design a proprietary unique solution for them, or they simply just don't have the resources to do it. What I've seen happen is that we get birds of a feather together, we get the engineers in these workshops and these summit meetings and various gatherings, and they start talking about their problems -- and they start brainstorming on how they want to solve that together. We see solutions that come out of that, and they can agree that they will work on that solution together.
And the only way they can do it is in an open forum. I shouldn't say the only way, but it's an easy way to do that in an open environment versus having to put three-way NDAs into place or two-way NDAs into place and try to coordinate this They get to work, they get to piggyback on the work of others, they get to leverage that work.
So you see the problem being vetted out and discussed amongst consumers, and then you see the supply side, the ODMs [original design manufacturers], witnessing this -- and they are saying, "Wow, I have a business opportunity that I can see right in front of me. There are people in the room that are my potential customers, and it's not one customer. I now see two or three engineers from two or three companies talking about the same problem." And they see that as a great business opportunity because they can make that investment knowing that it's not for a single account or a single project to design that.
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TT: That makes a lot of sense. What about the role of Open Compute Project itself in web-scale IT?
BC: We see an opportunity to introduce technology quicker. Yesterday, you had a technology that would be under development by a company, and when they go to market, they work with their strategic partners -- and those partners are ODMs. They're kind of reliant on having a customer to ship this to, and they make their independent decisions on their investments for their product portfolio. So we see new technology that's being incubated not by a technology provider but really from an end user, where they're saying, "Hey, I have a demand for a certain technology or a certain capability." And the supply side is responding to that as well, saying, "Hey, I think I can help solve that problem."
And we specifically see it today when a technology is tightly coupled to an industry standard. We have industry standards around bus interfaces and around APIs, but we're able to move much quicker because we don't operate like a standards body; we operate like a product company, like a product provider. Product teams tend to move pretty quickly because they have deadlines to meet and launch dates that they're trying to hit. They move pretty quickly, and if they can do that in working with us, they could release things, they could write specs, they could push it out to the community, they could quickly get feedback, and they could go to production on their schedule.
So we're starting to see that emerge within OCP -- and specifically within our telco workgroup projects. We are working on a universal CPE [customer premises equipment] appliance, and we have an example where AT&T has offered to write the spec and to gather input from the OCP-telco community, and they're doing that. We're able to put out initial releases of the spec. We're able to get suppliers to respond to that, and we're moving ahead really quickly in comparison to timeframes that I'm used to working in in private development. For example, we talked about universal CPE as an opportunity back in, I think it was in May, when we were down in Austin, Texas, at the Big Communications Event, and it was posed as an opportunity to collaborate on this uCPE equipment. We walked away from that meeting with some ideas and some potential partners that we wanted to work with, and we have already released an initial draft of the spec.
We're also working with the Telecom Infra Project [TIP]. This is another semi-open-sourced industry group that Facebook and a few others kicked off here a year or two ago. I think Intel and Verizon are a part of that as well.
We've actually signed a formal agreement with TIP to work with them on this universal CPE equipment where the TIP organization will work on some open-source DevOps tools and we're responsible for delivering the hardware for that. So again kind of able to divide and conquer, and I think we're moving much more quickly in this kind of open environment than we would if it was just two companies working together in the backroom.
TT: To what extent do your network-carrier partnerships presently include or leverage web-scale IT?
BC: I think many of our partnerships, many of our community members, are responsible for some of the web-scale activities -- and it's either direct or indirect because from what I've seen, as part of this transformation that they're looking at, they have a holistic view of their IT services. They don't have a homogeneous implementation. They still operate to some degree in silos, but they're certainly aware of those silos and they're trying to figure out how to break those down and how to transform into more of a unified IT infrastructure.
I think the people we work with are pretty cognizant of that, at least on the carrier side and the folks that come from the carriers.
We also have some more traditional telecom-equipment providers that are still servicing or still providing hardware that goes into the infrastructure today. Even those companies are realizing that they need to offer a solution that works in their web-scale infrastructure.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation