Why the data centre industry should open its doors
Fri 10 Jan 2020 | Jonas Caino
Jonas Caino on the rich rewards of open source philosophy
Open source is not new. As far back as the early 1900s, engine designs were shared freely between automotive manufacturers. In the spirit of knowledge sharing that encapsulates academia, universities shared computer fixes to software bugs in the 1950s and 1960s.
But when we think of open source our minds tend to focus on the 1990s and the rise of the great Linux Kernel. This changed everything.
Linux brought back freedom from the grip the big corporations had on computer technology, placing the power back in the hands of the people, well, at least the keen computer geeks. One can start with one’s own operating system, modify it and design whatever program one can imagine, to do whatever one can imagine, all for free.
Linux opened the floodgates to a plethora of other open source software such as Apache Server, MySQL and more recently the mobile phone operating system, Android. When you ask the average techie what open source means to them, invariably the response would be: ‘freeware is free’. My take on open source is two words: transparency (open) and collaboration (sourcing).
With these two words, open source has moved from just ‘free’ software and has graduated to a bonified process philosophy to achieve a desired end.
Consider crowdsourcing for example. A simple term coined by Wired magazine’s Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson in 2005 has now become a global phenomenon used to reach goals whether that is raising finance, creating ideas or obtaining resources from a complex network of sources dotted all over the globe.
The focus here is transparency and collaboration. The beauty of this philosophy is in the tapping into the ecosystem of specialists, experts, innovators, thinkers and influencers who share their knowledge, experience and different perspectives to solve problems and achieve results.
Using closed platforms to create positive outcomes is OK, however, with the internet, digitalisation, globalisation and hypercompetitive environments; the world is moving far too fast for organisations not to notice the limiting effects of relying purely on themselves to solve problems and get (and stay) ahead, whether it’s within R&D, marketing, logistics, HR or strategy.
What can we learn?
What about within the data centre space? What can we learn from the open source philosophy when it comes to the design, build, development, maintenance and operation of data centres, the engines of our digital infrastructure?
We know that the digital world is growing exponentially, so much so that data centre managers will tell you that the demands on the data centre seem to outstrip its capability.
To me, it just appears the pace of innovation within the software and server space (particularly around open source methodology) is light years ahead of that of the data centre’s physical infrastructure space. But the data centre is the foundation the servers and software platforms are based on!
Don’t get me wrong, there are organisations out there that promote open source philosophy within data centres, such as the Open Compute Project (OCP), Open19 and OpenStack. As a data centre designer and manager, these are all organisations worth exploring, if you haven’t already done so.
Do it yourself
Even without the above forums, the question still remains, how can we take advantage of open source philosophy to create outcomes such as agility, higher efficiencies, better resilience – all at a lower cost? The answer is simple: start your own open source platform!
Data centres exist in an ecosystem of consultants, contractors, engineers, subcontractors, manufacturers, developers, customers, competitors and many more stakeholders. The wealth of experience, knowledge and ideas within this ecosystem is staggering.
It’s simply a case of tapping into this pool in a structured manner and managing the information flow as well as innovatively harnessing the answers to solve problems. There are lots of initiatives data centre heads and IT directors can take out to make this a reality, such as roundtable workshops or project boards to look into a specific area or simply setting up peer to peer information exchange platforms. The point is the holy grail of data centre strategy bliss doesn’t exist in the local pool but in the global ocean of the ecosystem. Use it.