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AT&T, Verizon join Facebook-led Data Center Group

January 27, 2016, 2:00 PM UTC
Data Center Of T-Systems
BIERE, GERMANY - JULY 01: Employee checking a server rack at the new data center of T-Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG on July 01, 2014, in Biere, Germany. T-Systems is the largest German and one of the largest European IT services companies. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

Mobile phone carriers are feeling the pain as more people watch their favorite movies and TV shows on their smartphones.

One way AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) are responding to that huge appetite for data is by experimenting with new open source software technologies that are typically created by researchers and volunteers and made available for free. Those technologies gives data center operators more flexibility for less money.

Now, data center hardware is increasingly going open source. On Wednesday, AT&T, Verizon, and Deutsche Telekom said they are joining the Facebook-led Open Compute Project, a foundation that makes data center hardware designs available for free so that companies can more easily create their own custom gear.

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Facebook (FB) founded the project in 2011 when it made its server and hardware designs publicly available. The social networking giant, like other big web companies like Google and Amazon, typically set their own gear specifications and then hire generic hardware manufacturers like Taiwan-based Quanta to build them.

Facebook claims to have saved over $1 billion dollars by designing its data center gear, with a bulk of that savings coming from reducing power consumption compared to conventional equipment. For example, all the gear in Facebook’s new Irish data center have been developed using the Open Compute Project’s blueprints.

Now new telcos joining the initiative can use those open source designs and swap ideas about data center hardware. They, along with fellow newcomers British mobile network operator EE and South Korea’s SK Telecom, will be part of a new arm that is specific to telecom companies.

New consortium members like AT&T and Verizon, ostensibly rivals, can work together on developing data center hardware that’s specialized for telcos. By joining the project, these companies believe that they are “demonstrating the demand for more innovation, vendor choice, and customization in their infrastructure designs,” according to a statement from the Open Compute Project.

Left unsaid is that companies that join are also putting pressure on traditional data center hardware sellers like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Cisco Systems. By leaving open the possibility of building their own hardware using contractors like Hyve Solutions or foreign manufacturers like Quanta, the member companies may be able to negotiate better prices from their usual vendors.

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However, both Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Cisco (CSCO) are also members of the organization, which shows they don’t want to be left out. In addition to the telecommunication companies, networking company Nexius and data center facility operator Equinix have also joined the group. Other project members include Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung.