Students Developing Biodegradable Server Chassis

Imagine: a server chassis that you could use to fertilize your garden. And no, this isn’t a load of manure, although it may sound like it.

Instead, the Open Compute Project has sponsored a design challenge with Purdue University’s College of Technology entrepreneurship program, Tech Ventures, to develop a design for a more sustainable server chassis.

And yes, when you dig down into the project itself, a biodegradable server chassis is indeed the end goal.

“We think there’s enormous potential here, as servers are sometimes replaced as often as every 2-3 years,” the Open Compute Project’s John Kenevey, a group program manager at Facebook, wrote in a blog post. “And even though the steel in those server chassis is usually recycled, we think it’s worth exploring designs that retain the needed resiliency but push the boundaries of sustainability. We’re excited to see what Purdue’s students come up with; stay tuned here for updates as the challenge progresses.”

The challenge will begin in the Spring 2013 semester, with a Computer and Information Technology (CNIT) course in which students will review relevant research and then break into teams to develop proposals. They’ll present their ideas at the end of the semester, and the winning teams will receive funding and further support to build a prototype.

It’s the hard drives, network switches, connectors, and pounds of plastic that worry recyclers: how to melt down all that metal, much less dispose of toxic plastic? And before any of that materials harvesting can take place, servers also need to be “sanitized” by wiping memories and disks clean. In many ways, the steel is the easy part.

While the notion of a biodegradable server is a noble one, it’s potentially a difficult goal to accomplish. Armed with their own servers, the students are going to give it their best shot.


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