We've seen in a number of interesting uses of data center waste heat in recent months, most notably
IBM's system to use waste heat from a data center in Switzerland to heat a nearby community swimming pool.
Paul Brenner from the University of Notre Dame Center for Research Computing has developed another novel approach to recycling waste heat. In a recent presentation at an open source conference in Oakland, Brenner said he had placed a rack of high-performance computing (HPC) nodes at a local municipal greenhouse, the South Bend Greenhouse and Botanical Garden, to help heat the flowers and plants in the facility. Here's a description from Sun's Mike Stevens:
Based on early prototype work which involves placing single rack in the greenhouse, the idea looks like a promising way to reduce natural gas heating requirements for the facility. Brenner has shown he can use grid scheduling software to deliver a desired temperature (within a range, of course) by simply adding or throttling compute jobs on the greenhouse cluster, which communicates with Notre Dame via a wide-area wireless broadband connection. He has looked at humidity issues and so far they don't seem to be a problem given the ranges supported by typical compute gear. And he points out that while the greenhouse environment does not offer the highly filtered environment of a controlled datacenter, the particulate tolerance for typical compute gear is far in excess of EPA guidelines for people. Phase II will involve placing three full racks of gear at the greenhouse to significantly reduce heating costs. Notre Dame will pay the electrical costs and use the compute resources. The city saves money on heating.
Brenner's full presentation is available online (PDF).