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Open Source hardware – Why not make our Computing Infrastructure design Open Source?

There is something called as ‘Open Compute Project’ initiated by Facebook that seeks to make compute infrastructure designs open-source, so that people can custom design their computing hardware according to the specifications standardized by the community, in order to achieve higher efficiency, lesser cost and lower power consumption (among others).

The open source movement in software has given us wonderful things. The basic idea behind publishing the source code of a software project on a public forum is that it could be useful to others working on a similar project. Otherwise, other people have to spend a lot of time writing code for the same software again and again (perhaps independently at different places). If the source code is already available, they could just take it and build/modify it to suit their requirements.

There are advantages for people publishing the software code as well. Many eager users might test the software and report bugs. Some of them might even volunteer to fix the bugs. Some of them might suggest improvements/feature requests. Some of them might adapt it for their own projects and publish back the new source code (with improvements/changes).

That’s the power of a team of volunteers having visibility on every module of the project.

That’s the power of collaboration between a diverse group of people.

The Open Source movement has been extremely successful in the software field. Why not bring it to hardware as well? In particular, hardware design and specifications could be open sourced and volunteer participation could be sought to make it better.

While executing large IT projects (like building a data center with thousand’s of nodes, etc), IT managers learn a lot of things. While designing such a huge project is a challenge in itself, the design might go through hundreds of iterations and changes before the project is completed. Some companies might even order custom designed hardware components, according to their requirements. Large projects come with their own opportunities and challenges.

One company (Facebook), which has extensively dealt with building data center hardware infrastructure has volunteered to open-source some of the improved hardware designs used by them on the Open Compute Project page.

The question is – Will other companies similarly open-source hardware designs and will volunteers participate and make these designs better? Can we nurture the spirit of community and help each other?

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