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November 13, 2012

Facebook Challenges Students To Build a Biodegradable Server Chassis

Open Compute Project and Purdue University create a contest to create the ultimate in sustainable hardware

Facebook wants students to come up with a way to build a server chassis that will someday be eaten by worms.

The idea is the latest challenge from the Open Compute Project. A few years ago, Facebook decided it wanted to build "one of the most efficient computing infrastructures at the lowest possible cost." The company decided that in order to do that it would have to take a clean slate approach: designing its own software, servers and data centers from the ground up. The result was Facebook’s Prineville, Oregon, data center, which opened in April 2011, soon boasting a PUE of 1.08

But unlike Google, whose top executives have always kept their technology locked behind closed data center doors (at least until deciding to take some pictures and talk to a few journalists about their data center innovations recently,) Facebook wants to share its ideas with everyone--as well as get a little help from university students who might be the next generation of brilliant engineers and entrepreuners. So it created the Open Compute Project, an open source approach to sustainable data center design.

That approach, says the Project team, has produced a data center, loaded with bare-bones servers, which is 38% more efficient and 24% cheaper to build than other state-of-the-art data centers.

Now it wants to take the next step. Facebook's Jon Kenevey posted a blog entry on Open Compute's web site explaining the new challenge: getting Purdue students to build a more sustainable server chassis. The goal is a chassis design that can "retain the needed resiliency but push the boundaries of sustainability." 

Why not? Companies should be replacing their servers every two or three years anyway, writes Kenevey. Over at Purdue University's web site (which says servers are replaced about every four years,) the argument is that composting a chassis is even better than recycling the steel.

The students will start with a Spring semester course within the university's College of Technology entrepreneurship program. A winning team is chosen at the end of the course, and gets funding and support from Facebook to build a prototype. They also get a free trip to the Open Compuiter summit to present their design to IT industry leaders.

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