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2/5/2014
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Fidelity 'Bridge' Rack Makes Open Hardware Real

Fidelity Investments works with ElectroRack, Delta Computer, and CPS to offer an innovative new rack design to the Open Compute Project.

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As the Open Compute Summit ended last week, details emerged of the second user-originated design of the Open Compute Project: a convertible datacenter rack designed by Fidelity Investments.

Fidelity designed the rack to meet the needs of its telco providers in the carrier room, where facilities from different communications suppliers are brought together, while continuing its traditional datacenter operations. The telcos wanted a 23-inch design, but many of Fidelity's datacenters require the EIA-standard 19-inch rack that's used by most enterprises.

These requirements fit with the Open Rack design initially submitted by Facebook. Its version, which serves as a building block of the company's air-cooled datacenter complex in Prineville, Ore., is a 23-inch rack that allows for spread-out components on a motherboard. Fidelity's convertible design incorporates dual-sided internal vertical rails that can hold chassis -- the frames or trays that hold shelves of servers, disks, or other equipment -- designed for 19-inch racks or, if dismantled and reinstalled, 23-inch chassis on the reverse side.

It took Fidelity 75 minutes on its first try to do a conversion. Nuts need to be loosened, and the vertical rails must be swiveled around and moved into position before the rack can be reconstructed. But a Fidelity spokesman said that time can be compressed to 45 minutes with a script listing the proper sequencing of procedures.

It might seem simple, but the design also requires new ways of accommodating cabling, wiring, and power supplies -- a task that had not been addressed in this fragmented and competitive industry. When Brian Obernesser, director of datacenter architecture at Fidelity, took the stage, he cited the three rack manufacturers that had worked with Fidelity on building the Open Bridge Rack: ElectroRack, Delta Computer, and CPS.

[Want to learn more about the debate around open-source hardware? See Open Hardware Is Like Linux: True Or False?]

The three companies, which otherwise would be competitors, were open to collaborating on design and contributing back to the community, Obernesser told Summit attendees. A total of 3,476 people registered for the conference in San Jose, Calif.

Traditional racks have wiring and cables coming out of the back. Open Rack's cable comes down from overhead to feed into the front of the rack. Power supplies and power distribution in the rack are constant variables. While remaining customizable, the Open Bridge Rack distributes power over a shared bus from two power zones, each offering 15 kilowatts.

Fidelity first proposed a bridging rack in January 2013 at an Open Compute hackathon. Five Fidelity team members produced the first specification of what was then called the "back rack," which allowed a retrograde configuration. "To be quite honest, it was extremely bulky, heavy, difficult to manufacture, and expensive," Obernesser said. "But this led us to a search for to find strategic partners in the industry [Delta, CPS, and ElectroRack] with some experience in manufacturing these components."

He said the team didn't complete all the details of the new design until a week before this year's summit, which took place Jan. 28-29. Fidelity will use the rack in its carrier rooms, where communications suppliers come together at one point near the datacenter.

Fidelity submitted specifications and 3D schematics of 19- and 23-inch racks to the Open Compute Project. "We started out with sort of a weird thing from Facebook, Open Rack," Matt Corddry, senior manager of engineering at Facebook and chairman of the Open Rack working group, said in the summit's keynote session.

It's really evolved far beyond one contribution. We went through a lot of work to lock in a pretty robust standard on how the server fits into the rack. And that's provided a sort of ecosystem into which various chassis designers, rack designers, and power shelf designers can build interoperable gear, which is really the Holy Grail of rack design.

The effort has started paying dividends, Corddry said. "I saw a fantastic new design from Fidelity and ElecroRack that's Open Rack-compatible... One of the hallmarks we look for is Open Rack equipment that emerges that we had nothing to do with. And that's starting to happen."

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek, having joined the publication in 2003. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse ... View Full Bio

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ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 5:20:05 PM
Re: Glad you covered this
Interesting to see an end-user company like Fidelity investing the time in this level of data center equipment. That's what it takes to get open source innovation. I wonder if there's enough appetite out there among companies to sustain and broaden the open hardware movement. 
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
2/6/2014 | 12:50:36 PM
Re: Glad you covered this
I'll strongly second Lorna's sentiment, since the tag line for InformationWeek is "Connecting the Busines Technology Community."  Way too much ink is spilled on the latest phone or consumer toy.  This topic is truly relevant; more like this, please!
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 11:23:29 AM
Glad you covered this
Advanced rack and ToR cabling projects like these may not be as sexy as a new wearable, but they're important. Kudos Charlie for giving ElectroRack, Delta Computer, and CPS a shout out.
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