Developing countries and Open Compute

While developing countries may benefit from Open Compute, bigger issues need to be addressed first.

Open Compute ProjectDuring a panel discussion after the recent Facebook Open Compute announcement, a couple
of panelists — Jason Waxman, GM in Intel’s server platforms
group, and Forrest Norrod, VP and GM of Dell’s server platform —
indicated the project could be beneficial to developing countries. Waxman said:

The reality is, you walk into data centers in emerging countries
and it’s a 2-kilowatt rack and there’s maybe three servers in that
rack, and the whole data center is powered inefficiently — their
air is going every which way and it’s hot, it’s cold. It costs a lot.
It’s not ecologically conscious. By opening up this platform and by
building awareness of what the best practices are in how to build a
data center, how to make efficient servers and why you should care
about building efficient servers and how to densely populate into a
rack, there are a lot of places … that can benefit from this type of

In a similar vein, Norrod said:

I think what you’re going to see happen here is an opportunity for
those Internet companies in the developing world to take a leap
forward, jumping over the last 15 years of learnings, and exploiting
the most efficient data center and server designs that we have

The developing countries angle intrigued me, so I sent an email to
Benetech founder and CEO Jim Fruchterman to get his
take. Fruchterman’s company has a unique focus: apply the “intellectual capital and resources of Silicon Valley” to create solutions around the world for a variety of social problems. Recent projects have focused on human rights, literacy, and the development of the Miradi nature conservation project software.

His verdict? While efficient data centers are useful, they’re secondary to pressing issues like infrastructure, reliable power, and basic literacy.

Fruchterman’s reply follows:

JimFruchterman.jpgWhile I’m excited about an open initiative coming from
Facebook, I’m not so sure that its impact on developing countries will
be all that significant in the foreseeable future. Watching the
announcement video, I didn’t find these words coming out of the
Facebook teams’ mouths, but instead the Intel and Dell panelists. And,
their comments focused mostly on India, China and Brazil — not
exactly your typical “developing” countries.

The good news is, of course, that these open plans show how to
reduce energy and acquisition costs per compute cycle. So, anyone
building a data center can build a cheaper and lower power data center.
That’s great. But, building data centers is probably not on the top of
the wish lists of most developing countries. Telecom and broadband
infrastructure, reliable power (at the grid level, not the server
power supply level), end-user device cost and reliability,
localization, and even basic literacy seem to be more crucial to these
communities. And, most of these factors are prerequisites to investing
significantly in data centers.

Of course, our biggest concerns around Facebook are around free
speech, anonymous speech, and the protection of human rights
defenders. Facebook is increasingly a standard part of global user
experience, and we think that it’s crucial that Facebook get in front
of these concerns, rather than being inadvertently a tool of
repressive governments. We’re glad that groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
have been working with Facebook
and seeing
progress, but we need more

Fruchterman’s response was edited and condensed.


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