Monthly Archives: December 2011

Data furnaces to heat homes

Researchers at the University of Virginia and Microsoft Research explored the possibility of using cloud server-generated heat to warm up buildings and single-family homes, in a paper presented this year at the Usenix Workshop on Hot Topics in Cloud Computing.

These days a lot of technology companies have moved their work to data centers with tens of thousands of servers. These servers, all placed together, give off a lot of heat, which is lost to the environment. The additional power needed for cooling the servers — up to half of the power used to run them — is the steep environmental price we have paid to move data to the so-called cloud.

The paper proposes to disperse these servers among homes and businesses and use the substantial heat generated to warm them up during the winter. The authors call the concept the “data furnace”.

There are three advantages which data furnaces have over traditional data centers. They have a smaller carbon footprint; there is a reduced total cost of ownership per server, and they can reside in closer proximity to users.

If a home has a broadband Internet connection, it can serve as a micro data center. One, two or three cabinets filled with servers could be installed where the furnace sits and connected with the existing circulation fan and ductwork. Each cabinet could have slots for, say, 40 motherboards — each one counting as a server. In the coldest climate, about 110 motherboards could keep a home as warm as a conventional furnace can. In the summer the heat gets vented outside. Only when temperatures rise above 95 degrees would the server need to be temporarily shut down.

The electricity for the data furnaces would be paid by the corporations that own them. Those companies can cut their costs per server by reducing the costs of real estate and physical data centers. The most likely place for a data furnace would be an office building or appartment complex, that which is capable of housing midsize data centers (in the hundreds of kilowatts range) and are seeking ways to drive better energy efficiency.