Monthly Archives: May 2012

Nuts & Bolts

via Nuts and Volts

In most of the descriptions of DIY electronics projects that I come across, the fasteners used in construction are merely mentioned in passing, if at all. However, the size, composition, and configuration of the nuts, bolts, and other fasteners can be just as important as the electronic components. Skimping on fastener hardware isn’t limited to enthusiasts on a shoestring budget. The practice extends to companies that assemble thousands of devices a day.

Kits (Homesense, Quick2Wire)

via OSHUG

For those that are new to hardware development it can prove a daunting prospect, and kits that address the needs of those with little or no experience in this area have a vital role to play. At the nineteenth OSHUG meeting we will be hearing about two such kits, one that was designed to support user-led smart home innovation and that was based around the Arduino platform, and an experimenters kit for the Raspberry Pi that is currently in development.

The Homesense Project

The Homesense project was a European user-led, smart-home development project employing open source hardware. The project was led by Tinker London and EDF and engaged households supported by local experts in the design and development of smart home concepts.

The project was developed as a reaction to top-down design approaches commonly observed in technological development and home building. Most early research viewed smart homes as a single complex system that is designed and constructed from the ground up, and assumes that most aspects (physical building, digital infrastructure, furniture, appliances) are under the control of a single smart-home developer. (Kortuem et al. 2010)

In the contrasting reality however of multi-vendor development and retrofitting this is rarely the case. Inspired also by an argument that smart homes are developed by experts in a top down approach subsequently living with a smart home is acknowledged to be problematic to non-experts who lack control over respective technologies.

The Homesense project was therefore designed to enable user-led innovation within the home environment, building alongside existing environmental and social conditions allowing end-users to address their own concerns in their physical and ‘lived in’ space. Homesense sought to bring the open collaboration methods of online communities to physical infrastructures in the home. Designing a toolkit to support this approach is explored as a topic of this presentation.

Natasha Carolan is a PhD student at HighWire Doctoral Training Centre, Lancaster University where her research considers commodification of design and production processes in the digital economy. A product designer by background, her research explores open and user innovation, service design and value co-creation in areas of NPD and manufacturing. Natasha co-designed the Homesense toolkit by situating the toolkit as a cultural probe a strategy that Natasha believes is important in placing open source hardware in a democratic system as a tool for learning and empowerment.

Quick2Wire

Quick2Wire Limited is a start-up that is developing a range of OSH/OSS add-on products for the Raspberry Pi. The first product is an experimenter's kit, contaning an expansion board, a set of components with which to experiment, software to drive the Pi, and an instruction manual. This will be followed by a series of expansion kits, using I2C and SPI to add capabilities like ADC, DAC, PWM and stepper motor drivers.

All the hardware and software will be released under open source licences.

The presentation will conclude with a demonstration using hardware prototypes driven by a Raspberry Pi.

Romilly Cocking spent the ten years before his 'retirement' as an agile software developer, coach and trainer. He spent the first two years of retirement experimenting with robotics. Then Raspberry Pi came along, and now Romilly works full-time running Quick2Wire.

Note: Please aim to arrive for 18:00 - 18:20 as the event will start at 18:30 prompt.

Sponsored by:

Kits (Homesense, Quick2Wire)

via OSHUG

For those that are new to hardware development it can prove a daunting prospect, and kits that address the needs of those with little or no experience in this area have a vital role to play. At the nineteenth OSHUG meeting we will be hearing about two such kits, one that was designed to support user-led smart home innovation and that was based around the Arduino platform, and an experimenters kit for the Raspberry Pi that is currently in development.

The Homesense Project

The Homesense project was a European user-led, smart-home development project employing open source hardware. The project was led by Tinker London and EDF and engaged households supported by local experts in the design and development of smart home concepts.

The project was developed as a reaction to top-down design approaches commonly observed in technological development and home building. Most early research viewed smart homes as a single complex system that is designed and constructed from the ground up, and assumes that most aspects (physical building, digital infrastructure, furniture, appliances) are under the control of a single smart-home developer. (Kortuem et al. 2010)

In the contrasting reality however of multi-vendor development and retrofitting this is rarely the case. Inspired also by an argument that smart homes are developed by experts in a top down approach subsequently living with a smart home is acknowledged to be problematic to non-experts who lack control over respective technologies.

The Homesense project was therefore designed to enable user-led innovation within the home environment, building alongside existing environmental and social conditions allowing end-users to address their own concerns in their physical and ‘lived in’ space. Homesense sought to bring the open collaboration methods of online communities to physical infrastructures in the home. Designing a toolkit to support this approach is explored as a topic of this presentation.

Natasha Carolan is a PhD student at HighWire Doctoral Training Centre, Lancaster University where her research considers commodification of design and production processes in the digital economy. A product designer by background, her research explores open and user innovation, service design and value co-creation in areas of NPD and manufacturing. Natasha co-designed the Homesense toolkit by situating the toolkit as a cultural probe a strategy that Natasha believes is important in placing open source hardware in a democratic system as a tool for learning and empowerment.

Quick2Wire

Quick2Wire Limited is a start-up that is developing a range of OSH/OSS add-on products for the Raspberry Pi. The first product is an experimenter's kit, contaning an expansion board, a set of components with which to experiment, software to drive the Pi, and an instruction manual. This will be followed by a series of expansion kits, using I2C and SPI to add capabilities like ADC, DAC, PWM and stepper motor drivers.

All the hardware and software will be released under open source licences.

The presentation will conclude with a demonstration using hardware prototypes driven by a Raspberry Pi.

Romilly Cocking spent the ten years before his 'retirement' as an agile software developer, coach and trainer. He spent the first two years of retirement experimenting with robotics. Then Raspberry Pi came along, and now Romilly works full-time running Quick2Wire.

Note: Please aim to arrive for 18:00 - 18:20 as the event will start at 18:30 prompt.

Sponsored by:

Introducing the Open Rack

via Open Compute Project

The Open Rack creates a new, open standard for server rack design that provides an innovative platform for rack infrastructure while lowering TCO in the scale compute space. It’s the first rack standard that’s designed for data centers, integrating the rack into the data center infrastructure, part of the Open Compute Project’s “grid to gates” philosophy, a holistic design process that considers the interdependence of everything from the power grid to the gates in the chips on each motherboard.

The Open Rack standard seeks to right some historic wrongs in traditional rack design, set by the EIA 310-D specification, which traces its origins back to railroad signaling relays. EIA 310-D wasn’t designed with data centers and scale computing in mind — it couldn’t, because it was established in the 1950s. EIA 310-D standardized the width between the inner rails in a rack, but left other rack specifications — such as height, depth, mounting and cabling schemes, and connectors — to the manufacturers, each of whom came up with their own proprietary designs. This resulted in gratuitous differentiation in server and rack designs, locking consumers into specific vendors and their implementations.

The Open Rack features a simple design, built with the scale compute space at its core. A slightly taller rack unit, called an OpenU, or OU, is 48mm high (the traditional rack unit is 44.5mm tall), which increases airflow, improving air economization; it also allows for better for cable and thermal management and efficient use of space. Fewer parts and service from the front improves serviceability. Modular design of the IT chassis (anywhere from 0.5 OU to 12 OU high) allows for flexible density within the racks.

Even though it’s a new standard, the Open Rack doesn’t deviate from the 24″ column width, which is driven by standard floor tile pitch. And while the Open Rack’s IT equipment space is 21″ wide, it can be adapted to accommodate existing 19″ equipment. The racks adhere to their own standard but still allow for innovation within the compute space. For example, the wider equipment bay allows for implementations with three motherboards or five 3.5″ disk drives side by side in one chassis. And the wider rack is much more space efficient than the 19″ rack, which, once you factor in the sidewalls and rails, results in just 17.5″ for equipment for about 73% space efficiency, versus the Open Rack delivering all 21″ out of the 24″ available for 87.5% space efficiency.

The Open Rack lowers total cost of ownership because it maximizes the product life cycle for each compute component. Rather than replacing the whole server on a regular, short (2.5 year) cycle, each component gets replaced according to its own life cycle, which can be up to 10 years in some cases. This disaggregation of compute components (CPU, hard drives, NICs) improves efficiency and reduces the amount of industrial waste.

The Open Rack implements an innovative, cable-less power distribution system, the first of its kind. Servers no longer have their own power supplies; they simply plug into bus bars at the back of the rack. The bus bars connect to the power shelves within each rack. The power shelves use the same highly efficient power supply used with the OCP Intel v2 motherboard. Two PDUs supply AC and DC power; in the event of loss of AC power, DC power can be provided by the Open Compute Project Battery Cabinet or by battery backup units (BBUs) within each power shelf in the rack.

The Open Rack is a new direction even for the Open Compute Project. The initial OCP motherboard specifications still adhered to the 19″ rack standard, and tradeoffs were made with cable routing and the necessity of putting the PSU in the back of the chassis. Having the disk drives in front caused the drives to traverse the chassis. Which made us realize a few truths:

  • Simplicity is hard.
  • When dealing with scale compute ecosystems, you have to design for the data center; the motherboard is just a module in a server.
  • When you engineer for density, you can do the wrong thing. The Open Rack aims for practical density.

Download and read the specification and charter. And join the conversation with the community.

Enabling Innovation Where It Matters

via Open Compute Project

It’s amazing how much can happen in a year. Last April, when we open sourced a set of server and data center designs under the name “Open Compute Project,” we weren’t sure what to expect. It was our hope that we could inspire the industry to be a little more open, a little more innovative, and a little more focused on energy efficiency.

Today, as more than 500 people converge on San Antonio for the third OCP Summit, I think we can safely say that we’ve already achieved much more than that. The momentum that has gathered behind the project — especially in the last six months — has been nothing short of amazing.

Here are some of the major developments we’ve seen, just in the six months since our last summit:

  • Dozens of new companies have joined as official members of the project, including HP, AMD, Fidelity, Quanta, Tencent, Salesforce.com, VMware, Canonical, DDN, Vantage, ZT Systems, Avnet, Alibaba, Supermicro, and Cloudscaling. HP, Quanta, and Tencent have taken the additional step of joining the OCP Incubation Committee, which reviews proposed projects to determine whether they should receive official OCP support.
  • Exciting new projects have been proposed to the Incubation Committee, including a Facebook design for a vanity-free storage server (code-named “Knox”) and highly efficient motherboard designs aimed at the specific needs of financial services companies from AMD and Intel (code-named “Roadrunner” and “Decathlete,” respectively).
  • We’ve begun mapping out a convergence between Open Rack, the OCP’s specification for an open-standard server rack design, and Project Scorpio, a similar spec under development by Tencent and Baidu. We expect to merge the two specs in 2013.
  • HP and Dell have announced new, clean-sheet server and storage designs (code-named “Project Coyote” and “Zeus,” respectively) that will be compatible with OCP’s Open Rack specification.
  • VMware has announced that it will certify its vSphere virtualization platform to run on OCP gear, and DDN has announced that it will do the same with its WOS storage system. Canonical has also announced that they will offer “zero day” certification on OCP servers, meaning that they will work with the OCP to certify new designs before those designs are released.
  • We’ve launched an official OCP Solutions Provider program to help enable new opportunities for companies to sell and consume technology based on Open Compute Project designs. Companies currently pursuing Solutions Provider status include Hyve, ZT Systems, and Avnet, as well as new business units from Quanta and Wistron (called QCT and Wiwynn, respectively) that have been launched to sell directly to consumers.

This is tremendous progress for such a short period of time. But even more gratifying is the way the Open Compute Project is inspiring both consumers and suppliers to think differently about this industry. In recent months, we’ve seen a variety of new choices emerge for consumers of scale computing technology, with the rise of new solutions providers like Hyve, ZT Systems, Avnet, and Quanta’s new OCT business unit. These new options will enable consumers of all kinds to consume open, efficient hardware in the ways that suit them best.

On the other side of the equation, we’ve started to see a convergence of voices among the consumers of this technology around where we think the industry would benefit from standardization and where we think the opportunities for innovation are. Open Rack and Project Scorpio are perfect examples of these consumer voices coming together and communicating their needs more clearly – and the new Open Rack designs debuting today from HP and Dell are perfect examples of the supplier community’s response to that emerging clarity.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the industry’s decreasing focus on what OCP founding board member Andy Bechtolsheim calls “gratuitous differentiation” and its increasing focus on driving innovation where it matters. This is the work we have ahead of us in the coming months, as we pursue even greater advances and efficiencies in scale computing technology. It is no small task that we’ve set for ourselves – but as the last year has proven, we can accomplish anything if we work together in the open.

Frank is founding board member of the Open Compute Project.