War for the Web
01 12.11

Data Center as Furnace

The New York Times just published an article about the possibility of companies outsourcing their data center servers to individual homes, offices, or apartment buildings in an effort to defray the costs of cooling them. The servers could be used to heat the home in colder months, and the head produced could be vented to the outside when it isn’t needed.

The heat produced by servers is a major cost for data centers. Something like half of the energy needed to run a data center is used for cooling the data center. These costs can be tremendous. The data center that Google built in The Dalles, Oregon, was reputed to use as much energy per 500 square feet as a city of 80,000 households. That is an incredible amount of energy.

The idea of using servers to heat homes is a pretty cool one. It is the kind of dual purpose technology that can help us lower the data footprint of the Internet. The premise would be that cloud computing and the technology that drives it would allow cloud servers to be distributed to any home with an Internet connection. The energy the server uses would be subsidized by the company that owns the server, and the server would heat the individual home using the same duct work and fans that already exist. The cost for the company would be lower, because they would only be paying to run the server, not to cool it as well, and it would subsidize the cost of heating for homeowners. Apparently Helsinki already does something similar to this, although only in the aggregate.

Cloud computing, and more importantly distributed computing over the Internet, gives companies the opportunity to think outside the box and avoid waste. I think that’s pretty exciting.

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