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Google joins Facebook's game-changing project that's eating the $140 billion hardware market

google data centers
google data centers

An engineer works on racks of computers inside a Google data center.

If the hardware industry was nervous about Facebook's game-changing Open Compute Project before, it should now be downright terrified now: Google is now finally on board.

OCP, the extraordinary project that started as a controversial idea inside Facebook about five years ago, is revolutionizing the computer hardware industry. Google's news was announced as part of the OCP tech conference taking place in San Jose this week.

OCP is doing for hardware what Linux, Android, and many other popular products did for software: making it free and "open source."

Anyone can take OCP's hardware designs, change them, and contribute to them, with contract manufacturers standing by to build those pieces.

Creativity is flowing through OCP, where engineers can freely collaborate without worry about protecting their secrets. The project's participants are inventing new ways to build computer servers, storage, and networks that are faster and cheaper to use than the commercial counterparts from companies like HP, Dell, IBM and Cisco.

In fact, HP and Dell are already on board with OCP, creating lines of servers that comply with OCP standards. HP has also agreed to become a contract manufacturer.

But Google had been conspicuously absent from OCP, even as other big companies that run huge data centers, from Microsoft to Goldman Sachs, joined and voiced their support

Like Facebook, Google designs and builds its own hardware for its own data centers.

Even last year, Google's legendary data center engineer, Urs Hölzle, offered a begrudging respect for the OCP project while simultaneously pooh-poohing its importance.

His take was that open source hardware was a nice idea, but the project's designs so far were a "bit basic" and its impact would be minimal because most businesses will be using cloud computing from Google and others, instead of buying their own hardware, he told Business Insider.

He's got a point about how companies are using clouds instead of buying computers. But that's why OCP has been such a big deal. Cloud players aren't buying that stuff from the classic commercial players either. They are building their own with OCP.

Like all open source projects, OCP is a give-and-take idea. You take and use all the designs, but ideally, you will also contribute to them.

So for Google's first contribution, it's offering designs for building greener, more energy-efficient computer racks. Data center racks are designed to hold and power many computer servers.

And there's more where that came from. Google wants to work with the OCP community to share designs for its computer storage disks, greener computer servers, and better network management tools.

"Today’s launch is a first step in a larger effort. We think there are other areas of possible collaboration with OCP," wrote John Zipfel, Technical Program Manager for Google in a blog post. "We look forward to new and exciting advancements to come with the OCP community."

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