Facebook’s Open Compute: The Data Center is the New Server and the Rise of the Taiwanese Tigers

Today Facebook took the great step of openly talking about their server and datacenter designs at the level of detail where they can actually be replicated by others. Another reason why I call it “great?” Well, it’s interesting that the sourcing and design of these was done by Facebook and with Taiwanese component makers. Nothing new for many of us working in the industry, but it’s something that’s often not discussed in the press when talking about US server companies.

If you take a look at the Facebook Open Compute server page and listen to the video with Frank Frankovsky you’ll hear a few company names mentioned. Many of them might not be familiar to you. Frank is the Director of Hardware Design and Supply Chain at Facebook, and used to be at Dell DCS (the datacenter solutions group) where he was the first technologist. One last piece of trivia: He was the technologist that covered Joyent too. We’ve been lucky enough to have bought servers from him and Steve six years ago and went out for sushi when he was down here interviewing.

So who made the boxes?

  • The chassis is made by MiTAC-SYNNEX based here in the US, where they’re just called Synnex. MiTAC-SYNNEX also owns Tyan (who made a lot of Sun stuff) and Magellan GPS as part of their 40+ companies and brands.
  • The power supply is made by Delta Electronics. Delta is where Ben Jai went to after he was at Google for over 7 years. Ben was the first hardware engineer at Google and was responsible for a number of Google’s server designs.
  • The motherboard is made by Quanta.

Synnex, Quanta and Delta were already the source suppliers and simply able to iterate on a design faster and move it into production. Because this is actually what they do. These aren’t little companies either: They each earn US$20-60 billion per year in revenue.

Greater China is also the largest producer and consumer of rare earth metals. Think about it.

And then another big Taiwanese company worth mentioning is Inventec. They’re actually the “biggest server ODM and one of the top 4 Notebook makers worldwide.” What is an ODM you ask? According to Wikipedia, “an original design manufacturer (ODM) is a company which designs and manufactures a product which is specified and eventually branded by another firm for sale.”

The phenomenon is this.

Taiwanese were OEMs of components. Then they became ODMs of components (Delta, for example, has around 90% or more of the market share of power supplies worldwide), and OEMs for full systems (e.g. servers).

What’s happened over the last few years?

They’ve become ODMs for servers, storage and networking. The old “boxes.” And they’re able to collaborate with companies like us, Facebook, Google, Amazon et al.

Why have they moved up the chain?

Because the new box is the datacenter (used to be the PC, now it’s DC), the walls of a datacenter are the chassis and the PC-style servers are just a component in that box, no different than a power supply or a motherboard.

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