Facebook eyes options for low-power server technology

SAN JOSE, Calif., Jan 28 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc's hardware whiz in charge of revolutionizing data centers lauded on Tuesday low-energy server technology which is expected to compete against heavyweight Intel Corp.

Speaking at a conference in San Jose, California, on Tuesday, Open Compute Project head Frank Frankovsky said Facebook's three-year push to help companies design better data center gear was gaining momentum and paying off with a range of cost-saving improvements.

He pointed to plans by a handful of companies to launch server chips based on low-power technology licensed from ARM Holdings, whose technology is widely used in smartphones.

"It might be coming to fruition about six months after the most optimistic among us thought, but we are absolutely going to see a much more rich ecosystem in CPU choice as we move through 2014 and into 2015," said Frankovsky.

Intel dominates the server market with its powerful Xeon processors and stands to lose if server chips based on a rival architecture catch on. Intel has launched its own low-power chips in anticipation of a move toward microservers by major Internet players like Facebook and Google.

Struggling with a shrinking PC industry, chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices has been developing and testing ARM-based chips for servers. Sunnyvale, California-based Applied Micro Circuits is also launching its own ARM-based server processors.

For some kinds of data-center workloads, several low-power chips working together can work more efficiently than one of Intel's brawny server chips, proponents of microservers say.

With off-the-shelf data center products falling behind Facebook's growing technical requirements, the world's top social media network in 2011 launched the Open Compute Project to push major technology companies to design and build hardware better-suited to running massive-scale Internet services.

Over the past three years, efforts by Facebook to make its infrastructure more efficient have saved the company over $1.2 billion, said Jay Parikh, vice president of infrastructure.

Its collaborative approach, with Facebook sharing its data center standards and asking partners to improve on them, is inspired by open source software projects like Linux, where developers from different companies contribute and share improvements.

Microsoft Corp, a New Open Compute member and technology heavyweight not traditionally known for sharing its expertise, has contributed cloud-server specifications that it says significantly reduce costs, as well as source code.

Since it started, the project has focused on improved standards for information storage, power supply, hardware racks and other data-center components.