Data Furnaces: Crazy Idea or Practical Solution?

Will the cloud live in your house, and heat your home? That’s the unusual concept put forth by researchers from Microsoft and the University of Virginia in a paper published earlier this year,who suggested that large cloud infrastructures could be distributed across offices and homes, which would use exhaust heat from cabinets of servers to supplement (or even replace) their on-site heating systems. The research, which got an initial burst of publicity back in July, has now been picked up by The New York Times.

The ability to recycle server heat – using air from the hot aisle to warm nearby office space – is a proven concept being used in a growing number of data centers, usually to warm offices in the data center or adjacent buildings. The Times story acknowledges several of the obvious drawbacks – security of the servers and temperature control in the “server room” – but also examines the economics of the arrangement. The Times writes:

“According to the researchers’ calculations, a conventional data center must invest about $400 a year to run each server, or about $16,000 for a cabinet filled with 40 of them. (This includes the costs of building a bricks-and-mortar center and of cooling the machines.) Having homes host the machines could reduce the need for a company to build new data centers. And the company’s cost to operate the same cabinet in a home would be less than $3,600 a year — and leave a smaller carbon footprint, too. The company’s data center could thus cover the homeowner’s electricity costs for the servers and still come out way ahead financially.”

The paper describes three types of Data Furnaces:

  • Low-Cost Seasonal Data Furnaces using older recycled servers that are decommissioned from large production data centers. These could run batch jobs and scientific research processing large datasets. In this model, the servers would provide heating at night and in winter months in areas with seasonal temperature fluctuations.
  • Low-Bandwidth Neighborhood Data Furnaces would use the home’s existing broadband connection (such as a cable modem) and serve cached data for applications integrating geographic proximity – such as mapping, location-based advertising and content delivery.
  • Eco-Friendly Data Furnaces use newer, energy-efficient servers and a dedicated T1 or FiOS network connection. The servers would operate year-round, with exhaust heat being vented outside in summer. “These DFs would give service providers the ability to expand into urban areas more quickly and easily without urban real estate and infrastructure expenses, as long as the application scale to the number of servers.

The paper’s authors include Christian Belady, the GM for Data Center Advanced Development in Microsoft Global Foundation Services.

Is the Data Furnace a crazy idea, or a stroke of genius. Take our poll below and share any additional opinions or insights in our comments section.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Bedrich Kopriva

    Hi. Did the experts noticed the summer season, please?