Does your data center compost? This question may become more relevant if an Open Compute Foundation project that’s sponsored by Facebook ends up a success. The goal is to build a biodegradable server chassis to replace existing steel enclosures.

Open compute servers

Facebook is sponsoring an Open Compute Foundation contest with Purdue to develop a more sustainable server chassis. The goal of the contest is to build a biodegradable box — instead of steel casing — to hold the innards of a server. Since most companies replace their servers every two to three years (the Purdue contest site says four), why not make the case out of something that doesn’t need to be recycled at the end of its rather short life?

From the design challenge web site:

Servers are typically replaced about every four years. This is necessary to maintain fast, reliable equipment. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of waste. Open Compute wants to change this starting with the server chassis. These are typically made of steel, which is recyclable, but even recycling generates waste. What would happen if these chassis could be placed in compost instead?

Purdue University’s College of Technology entrepreneurship program, called Tech Ventures, will work with the Foundation and the social network to get students to rethink the humble chassis. The challenge will begin with a Computer and Information Technology (CNIT) course at Purdue in the spring semester. I, for one, can’t wait to see the cardboard server chassis, although in some ways I think eliminating the chassis and making the rack the protective unit for the boards and components might make more sense.

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  1. I question the structural strength of a polymer based biodegradable chassis unless it was impregnated with carbon fiber or something like that. Still the cost of something like this would be much higher than a steel chassis.

    My thought is to design a better steel chassis that is easily refurbishable due to its modularity. I believe the real challenge would be to build a server chassis that can last for 20 years before recycling.

    1. I would expect to see something such as Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) used.

  2. Edward Beardsworth Saturday, November 10, 2012

    Is this Onion.com? They’re kidding, right? I mean, how short is the life of a soda can, and we recycle that.

  3. Fortunately there is already a cardboard computer – which is being used as a server at some businesses – http://www.recomputepc.com

    It works great and is extremely sturdy and well-designed.

  4. Why not standardize the chassis? Then we can replace the circuit boards and re-use the steel in site. And that can reduce shipping cost by reducing weight. It may increase labor at data centers but that’s a happy trade off – more people employed – less waste.

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