traffic on the rack for the Facebook application and is the result of Facebook's Open Compute Project launched in 2011. Under Open Compute, hardware designs are treated as open source documents, and any data center builder may take the design to an original equipment manufacturer.
Facebook executives believe their data centers will benefit if they publish their server and switch designs and give more parties a stake in their use. The more participants in Open Compute, the more modifications and innovations it will see in the shared designs.
Facebook may be able to eventually use a set of switches customized for different tasks at the top of the rack. The blue switch is meant to support Facebook's core social networking system, known internally as "the big blue application." It has self-healing properties, as shown in a video where a wire cutter mysteriously appears from the edge of the screen to snip a cable attached to the switch. It circumvents the disabled processor and reroutes traffic to the remaining functioning ones.
The blue switch is another step in Facebook's "disaggregation" of the data center, or breaking it up into repeatable modules that can be scaled out horizontally. The practice gets away from proprietary hardware and software as much as possible. Facebook's ability to go deep into its own hardware and software stack has resulted in optimized operations that have saved $1.2 billion over the last two years, Parikh said.
Compute and storage have already been successfully modularized and made customizable, according to the needs of the cloud vendor, he noted, "but the network is the last piece... The network is the next place for us to be working together," he said.
Structure conference attendees also heard from Urs Holzle, Google's chief cloud architect, who confessed that early in his career at Google he would go home on Friday wondering if the search engine would have as much capacity as it needed on Monday. Its growth was so pronounced that "traffic ran very close to capacity," and Google facilities managers had trouble adding data center space fast enough. Google designed its own data centers and the servers that would occupy them, kicking off the arms race that eventually occurred between Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and other cloud data center builders. Each vied to produce the most efficient design for the power consumed in its own operations.
Holzle was limited in the early days by Google's $25 million second (and last) round of equity funding in 1999. As search started to generate revenues, his problems eased. "Today is so much easier. I don't have to worry about capital expenses," he said. Google got into designing its own servers "to save money," he noted. Its cloud architecture didn't need many of its redundant parts. The cloud management software detected a piece of failed hardware, resurrected its data somewhere else, and resumed operations.
Holzle confirmed that Google tasks, whether in its search engine and Maps operations or in the Google Compute Engine, don't run in virtual machines. They run in Linux containers, a point that has been recently emphasized by advocates of greater use of containers in the cloud.
"Since we control the entire software stack, we're not forced to use virtual machines," he said. Many Google functions run faster in Linux containers than they would in virtual machines because "they run closer to the bare metal," he said.
Microsoft's Scott Guthrie, corporate VP for cloud, pointed out that Azure users may choose one of five Linux distributions -- including CentOS, Suse, and Ubuntu -- as well as Windows on the Microsoft cloud. (In effect, Linux runs in a Hyper-V virtual machine under Windows Server.)
Guthrie and other Microsoft executives position Azure as a more open architecture now because it's committed to long-term goals in cloud computing. In the long run, a handful of cloud providers will build very large, geographically distributed data centers to support their cloud services. Only three or four will be able to sustain the effort to operate "hyper-scale data centers," adding a million servers a year to their operations, he predicted.
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