Strangest Data Center Stories of Past Few Years
An aerial view of a Microsoft data center in Quincy, Washington, which uses a lightweight structure and modular data centers. In 2012, Microsoft reportedly wasted $70,000 worth of energy in Quincy to avoid a fine from the utility. (Photo: Microsoft)

Strangest Data Center Stories of Past Few Years

As the year closes out, we look at some of the most unusual stories that slipped under the radar in the past few years

Let’s close out the year looking at some of the strangest technology stories of the past few years, many of which flew under the radar. This started as a list for 2014 only, but stories from a few years back proved too weird to pass up.

The Other Home Data Center

In August, “The Home Data Center: Man Cave for the Internet Age” highlighted some interesting things hobbyists and IT professionals were doing in their homes with technology. It wasn’t the only the only case of servers invading homes. French company Qarnot and German cloud company Cloud&Heat took an interesting approach to address excess server heat.

Cloud&Heat offered free heating to homes and offices willing to house their servers. The heating, of course, comes via the server. A fireproof safety cabinet equipped with servers is installed in the building that is to be heated. The company provides various cloud services.

It’s the grassroots version of what Telus has been doing. Telus warms condos with heat from its servers in Vancouver. The difference is the servers are housed in central data centers instead of homes.

Imagine waking up to the smell of Doritos and Red Bull from the IT guy in your basement, sent to fix a problem at 3am.

Qarnot computing sells compute capacity to corporate clients and then channels that heat into central heating, stated a BBC article. The company invented the distribution system, which is tied into the thermostat. A small wall mounted radiator is mounted in the home and it pumps in heat generated. The company pays customers for the electricity Qarnot’s digital heaters use, so heating is free. Benoit said 4 servers are enough to heat a room.

Qarnot has distributed supercomputers into employee homes, schools and offices.

Evidence Wiped from Federal Servers Because of High Costs

A Miami doctor charged with selling fake prescriptions online had charges dropped because it was costing too much money to keep the evidence on federal servers, reported Yahoo in 2012. That evidence was around 2 Terabytes of digital space. As a reference point, a consumer can get a 2 Terabyte external hard drive for under a hundred bucks today compared to roughly 1 Terabyte for a hundred in 2012.

Perhaps the most amazing statistic is that those 2 Terabytes represented 5 percent of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s worldwide global storage network. To be fair, the case did start in 2003 and former Doctor Armando Angulo was indicted in 2007. However, here’s hoping the DEA has done a tech refresh since then – or not, depending on your predilections.

The overall investigation sent 26 people, including 19 doctors, to jail. Those people clearly cleaned up their tracks too well or didn’t work hard enough to generate enough evidence to be too expensive a prosecution.

WSJ: Higher Resolution Displays on Macs Wreak Havoc on Corporate Networks

In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that bigger, higher resolution retina displays on Macbook Pros would increase consumption of network bandwidth and slow performance of corporate networks. The higher resolution displays would increase bandwidth usage. Let that sink in.

The article was later corrected to say that the likelihood of streaming HD movies would go up because of the nice displays, and that would increase bandwidth. However, nothing truly dies on the Internet, as Reddit documented the whole affair. The comments section, of course, blew up, serving as another reminder.

This one was painful to write, as we all make mistakes. The journalist’s mistake was to write “display resolution” instead of “content resolution” It’s like writing IBM’s new brain inspired chip consumed 70 kilowatts instead of milliwatts on a site read by data center professionals.

In 2012, Microsoft Reportedly Burned $70k Worth of Electricity to Avoid Fine

Microsoft opened its zero-carbon methane powered data center this year, and it continues to commit to renewable energy in a big way. But, the company may have done something not very “green" in 2012. The New York Times reported Microsoft wasted electricity at its Quincy, Washington, data center to avoid fines and penalties for under-consumption of electricity.

The company burned $70,000 of electricity in 3 days to avoid the $210,000 fine, according to the report, which was amended to $60,000 after wasting $70,000 worth of electricity. The utility had a clause in the contract. But don’t get out the pitch forks. Microsoft has committed to 100 percent renewable energy for its data centers and is doing many interesting things in terms of reducing its carbon footprint.

Earlier this year, DCK looked at the strangest data center outages of all time. What strange, offbeat story do you remember?

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