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Using rejected server heat – will it compute?

MICROSOFT has released a paper setting out the argument for using the rejected heat from data centres as a primary heat source in the home.
Using small data centres as boilers to heat homes could be the future according to the new report, The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing. The use of 'data furnaces'(DF) would allow homes to be connected to a broadband network to provide cloud computing services, while the heat generated by the data centre could heat the building as well.

The theoretical report looks at how a computer server essentially converts electricity into heat, and that re-using this heat in the home could become a reality in the future.

Microsoft says that technological and economic trends make energy reuse a promising option as computers are getting cheaper and network connectivity is getting faster, whereas the cost of cooling data centres has to be considered at a time when energy itself is becoming a scarce resource.

After years of development of cloud computing infrastructure, the report says that the system management of servers and their capabilities are mature and can now be remotely re-imaged, re-purposed, and rebooted and by relocating these servers cloud computing companies could save electricity costs and save on heating bills.

'The energy budget allocated for heating would provide an ample energy supply for computing. Home heating alone constitutes about 6 per cent of the U.S. energy usage. By piggy-backing on only half of this energy, the IT industry could double in size without increasing its carbon footprint or its load on the power grid and generation systems,' says the report.

The temperature of the exhaust air from servers is usually around 40-50°C, which is perfect for heating purposes, including home/building space heating, cloth dryers, water heaters, and agriculture.

The report estimates that around two per cent of America's energy is used to run servers and keep them cool, while around six per cent of the country's energy goes on heating homes. As such the report identifies three main benefits of creating Data Furnaces.

Firstly, initial capital investment to build the infrastructure for a datacentre is avoided, such as construction costs, and other facilities.

Secondly, operating costs are reduced, such as cooling cost, which is significant in centralised data centres due to the power density needed, but the key feature of DFs is that they have essentially no additional cooling or air circulation costs since the heat distribution system in the house already circulates air, making them improve power usage efficiencies (PUE) over conventional datacentres.

Finally, the money to buy and operate a furnace for home heating is avoided, and can be used instead to offset the cost of servers: the cloud service provider can sell DFs at the price of a furnace, and charge household owners for home heating. By doing this, the heating cost remains the same for the host family, while costs are reduced for the cloud service provider.

Whether this blue-sky thinking can turn into a reality will be dependent on blowing away the clouds to see how it could be carried out in practise. Click here to view the report: The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing.

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