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Open Compute Project to ask college students for hardware ideas

In its quest to figure out how best to build efficient, scalable data centers, the Open Compute Project is looking to students and other independent people for ideas.

Thus the hackathon at the Open Compute Summit on Wednesday. While most hackathons focus on coding, Facebook (s fb) and Open Compute are hoping to use tools from companies such as UpVerter and GrabCAD to help make the collaborative problem-solving that occurs so easily around code, happen in hardware. These companies offer web-based collaboration software with UpVerter letting engineers share circuit designs and libraries and GrabCAD performing a similar service for mechanical designs.

After keynote speakers talked up the importance of collaborating to advance cloud-computing infrastructure at the event in Santa Clara, Calif., about 25 people formed seven groups and discussed ways to implement hardware concepts they had brainstormed in a matter of hours.

One group cooked up plans for a device with an LED that can plug into an Open Compute server and display debugging information. Another group threw around visions of a strip of thermometers that can go inside a server rack — useful for telling data center operators how hot their machines were running. And another drew up a prototype for a server rack that could accommodate the larger Open Compute servers and more traditional 19″ servers.

“There will be some very significant designs over the next six or eight hours,” said John Kenevey, the technical evangelist for Open Compute and a program manager at Facebook.

Similar events could play out at colleges and universities if Kenevey has his way.

Over the next year or so, Kenevey will flesh out the details of a higher-education Open Compute hackathon model — known for now as OCPU, short for Open Compute Project University — and approach schools about it.

The challenge is to make on-campus Open Compute hackathons appeal to students who often participate in hackathons. Perhaps students could receive course credits for teasing out Open Compute ideas, he said.

Such events wouldn’t be the first link between the Open Compute Foundation and academia. As my colleague Stacey Higginbotham wrote in November, an Open Compute Project contest is underway at Purdue, where students will try to design an Open Compute server chassis that’s biodegradable. Purdue students setting out on the project stopped by to witness the beginning of Wednesday’s hackathon which is set to last 12 hours.

This story was corrected on Thursday, Jan. 24, with the correct description of a device developed at the Open Compute hackathon.

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