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Facebook cites progress on low-power server technology

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this photo illustration, May 2, 2013
A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this photo illustration, May 2, 2013

By Noel Randewich

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Facebook Inc's executive in charge of revolutionizing data centers on Tuesday lauded low-energy server technology that is expected to compete against heavyweight Intel Corp.

The social networking firm's three-year push to help companies design better data center gear is gaining momentum and paying off with a range of cost-saving improvements, Open Compute Project head Frank Frankovsky told an industry conference here.

He pointed to plans by some 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.

Servers are the brains and guts of online networks, handling computations and managing tasks.

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

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

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. Both companies said they would soon start sampling their chips with customers.

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 its massive 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, in which developers from different companies contribute and share improvements.

Microsoft Corp, a New Open Compute member but a 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.

While the Open Compute Project's new standards and products have benefited Facebook, it is not clear how much they are helping smaller companies with different, less-demanding data-center requirements, said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, who was at Tuesday's event.

"After three years ... you would expect many, many enterprises to get up and talk about how they've purchased OCP-compliant hardware, but that's not really happening," Moorhead said.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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