TO satisfy our ever-growing need for computing power, many technology companies have moved their work to data centers with tens of thousands of power-gobbling servers. Concentrated in one place, the servers produce enormous heat. The additional power needed for cooling them — 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.
Researchers, however, have come up with an intriguing option for that wasted heat: putting it to good use in people’s homes.
Two researchers at the University of Virginia and four at Microsoft Research explored this possibility in a paper presented this year at the Usenix Workshop on Hot Topics in Cloud Computing. The paper looks at how the servers — though still operated by their companies — could be placed inside homes and used as a source of heat. The authors call the concept the “data furnace.”
They acknowledge that it is more likely that data furnaces, if adopted, would be placed first in basements of office and apartment buildings, not in individual homes. But as a “thought-provoking exercise,” the authors give homes the bulk of their attention.
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 toasty as a conventional furnace does.