During the first week of March 2017, in a series of announcements that likely flew under the radar of most people, Microsoft announced collaborative efforts with several semiconductor chipmakers, including Intel, NVIDIA, AMD, Qualcomm, and Cavium. The announcements came out of a fairly obscure conference called the 2017 Open Compute Project (OCP) U.S. Summit.
The primary takeaway from this flurry of activity is that Microsoft, in the guise of its Project Olympus initiative, and with the help of alliances, partnerships, and more than a little cajoling, has developed a de facto standard model for hardware development and community based open collaboration. So even though your enterprise may not house the hardware that runs your cloud services, the hardware that does is likely a byproduct of Microsoft's Project Olympus.
Climbing the mountain
Project Olympus establishes an open source cooperative standard for server hardware tasked with providing cloud and enterprise services. Developing the standard with the open source model has accomplished two things. First, the hardware is robust yet flexible, which means future scaling of capability and capacity should not be a problem.
Second, the CPU and the subsystems that support it can be just about anything—the standard is CPU independent. This is why Microsoft was able to announce collaborative agreements with so many different chipmakers on the same day. The OCP Summit was just the perfect place to release the shared announcements.
The Project Olympus standard will support the next generation Intel Zeon processors (Skylake) and AMD's next-generation processor, which it has dubbed "Naples." There was also an announcement about NVIDIA and support for GPU-based processing, which is most often associated with artificial intelligence computations.
While the Project Olympus-inspired announcements regarding the big players like Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD were to be expected, some heads were probably turned by a release that said the new hardware standard would also support ARM processors produced by Qualcomm and Cavium. ARM-based processors are not generally associated with Microsoft software like Azure and Windows 10.
The numerous cooperative announcements flowing out of the OCP Summit are just another indication of Microsoft's commitment to cloud-based computing. By getting the vast majority of datacenter engineers to agree upon an open source hardware standard for servers, Microsoft has provided a known and quantifiable foundation for software development. In other words, Microsoft has streamlined and simplified its future.
This is important because Microsoft knows that the overarching future of computing rests in the cloud. It's important to establish Windows 10 on as many devices as possible—potentially billions. And it's even more vital to get as many of those devices as possible, plus IoT devices coming online soon, to use Azure services. The quality of Microsoft's future depends on it.
With a more universal standard, developers of Azure services can focus on features and scalability and much less on hardware drivers and CPU-specific tweaks. As long as customers building datacenters follow the open source standard, engineers at Microsoft can fulfill specific requirements and specifications quickly and efficiently—saving time, money, and headaches.
A notable accomplishment, coming from an obscure conference called the 2017 Open Compute Project (OCP) U.S. Summit—don't you think?
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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.