Open Compute Project – Collaborative Competition

Major corporations whether their business is content, media, tech or finance are often, rightly, targeted by regulators who seek to limit anything that may be perceived as anti-competitive behaviour.

The presumption is that market dominance is bad, that collusion is bad and that any collaboration between huge corporations is a bad thing.

This is not always the case and in an increasingly changing world, while dominant market players should be subjected to close scrutiny collective action does not necessarily warrant intervention, regulation or restriction.

A case in point is the Open Compute Project (OCP). It came about because the major tech giants had grown so huge that they needed to look beyond typical hardware solutions for their data centres and design their own hardware from scratch. Data centre racks need to evolve, requiring more and more power to propel graphics processing, VR and AI, etc to their full potential.

Facebook was the first to recognise the benefits of open source hardware and founded the OCP in 2011. Not only would this help reduce hardware costs, but by creating standards accelerates and expands the potential for AI as it is these underlying technologies that will drive neural networks.

This was a bold move by Facebook and it has taken five years to persuade the majority of major tech players and other major institutions to come on board.

The Open Compute Project Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit organisation whose members now include Microsoft, Intel, Rackspace, Ericsson, Cisco, Juniper Networks, AT&T Goldman Sachs, Fidelity and the famously secretive Apple who joined in 2015.

Last week it was announced that Google has joined OCP, leaving Amazon as one of the last remaining tech companies not to join the project.

The conclusion is pretty clear: data centres power all of these businesses but they are not the basis on which these businesses compete. By collaborating on the foundations, the tech giants are laying the field for a higher-level game where the real competition between them will play out, i.e. who has the best solutions.