An article in yesterday's New York Times
looks at a research paper from Microsoft
and the University of Virginia. Randall Stross
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.
Clearly, we are many steps away from this kind of arrangement occuring in the near future. As Stross points out, "the idea awaits one big-name Internet company to give it a try — and to be willing to give prospective users enough financial incentive so they’ll consent to have servers take the place of their furnaces in the basement."
But as winter gets closer, it is a compelling proposition. A little more from yesterday's article:
Kamin Whitehouse ... a co-author of the research paper, (was asked) how the computer science world had reacted to the idea. “We’ve gotten a very strong response, more than I usually get after publishing a scientific paper,” he said. “We heard from several people who are already heating their homes with computer systems, which shows that it works. Our contribution is to show that the data furnace also has lower cost and lower energy than a conventional data center.”
Winston Saunders, a physicist who serves as an alternate board member of the Green Grid, a nonprofit industry group that promotes environmentally friendly data centers, read the data furnace paper and is enthusiastic about the concept. Mr. Saunders is director of data center power initiatives at Intel, but spoke on behalf of the Green Grid.
“I’ve got a little house in the middle of the Oregon mountains.” he said. “I have baseboard electric heaters in it right now that cost me a fortune to run. What if I had a ‘baseboard data center’? It would just sit there and produce the same amount of heat with the same amount of electricity. But it would also do computing, such as decoding DNA, analyzing protein structures or finding a cure for cancer.”
To learn more than is provided by the Times, check out the paper (pdf file) released by Microsoft and the University of Virginia.
Turn On the Server. It's Cold Inside.
Randall Stross | 26 November 2011
The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing
Jie Liu, Michel Goraczko, Sean James, Christian Belady, Jiakang Lu and Kamin Whitehouse
Microsoft Research and University of Virginia