Microsoft paper proposes using 'cloud' servers to heat homes

Jul 26, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
servers

(PhysOrg.com) -- Microsoft has published a research paper that proposes installing servers used for cloud computing into homes and businesses, instead of in vast data centers. The idea being, that because such servers generate so much heat, why not use them to heat homes, instead of wasting even more energy by cooling the air in centralized locations.

The paper, “The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing “ published by Research, in conjunction with Virginia University researchers, looks at the feasibility of selling “Data Furnaces” (DFs) to consumers, who would then benefit by having their winter heating bills reduced down to almost zero. The authors argue that the cost savings of doing so, for companies, would be significant (they estimate from $280 to $324 a year per server.)

The authors envision having DFs in the basements of homes all over the country, clustered around cites, of course, where the most demand for those servers exists. A customer would purchase a unit and have it installed in the basement, where it would the home, and could be used for other purposes as well, such as heating hot water or drying clothes. In such a small scale system, the author’s believe that an existing broadband connection could be used, thus no additional data transfer hardware or software would need to be installed. As part of their purchase, users would agree to replace filters and reset or turn serves on or off if and when needed. For users that live in northern parts of the country, such as around New York City or Chicago, cost savings could be dramatic. In the summer, the DF could either be turned off, or the heat vented outside.

Larger systems with more CPUs could be installed in business buildings large and small, allowing for more computing power for the cloud company, and free or reduced heating bills for the hosts.

If such a system were to be put in place, the authors argue that storage and computing power for cloud applications could increase without an increase in electrical demand (which they say was 3% of total US demand as of 2006) because the electricity used to run the DFs would be offset by the reduction in electricity used to normally heat the homes. They also point out that such a distributed system would result in faster access times for customers since the would be located near the customers.

One issue not addressed in the paper is the variable throughput that users of home-based broadband have become accustomed to; an issue that while annoying to customers, might cause havoc with cloud based applications. Presumably, if this were to occur, the server company would have to foot the bill for a dedicated T1 line, or something similar. Other issues that would have to be resolved would center around data security, maintenance and what to do during power outages.

Explore further: Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

More information:
via i-Programmer

Related Stories

Sun Microsystems to offer 'public cloud' service

Mar 18, 2009

(AP) -- Taking a cue from Amazon.com, Sun Microsystems Inc. plans to launch its own "public cloud" service, which will let everyone from big-time corporations to dorm-room entrepreneurs run their businesses on Sun's computers ...

How energy-efficient is cloud computing?

Oct 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Conventionally, data storage and data processing are done at the user's own computer, using that computer's storage system and processor. An alternative to this method is cloud computing, ...

Study on the Security of Cloud Computing

Feb 26, 2010

Not only does cloud computing help to save money, it also helps to increase IT security: Small and medium sized companies especially can profit from special cloud security solutions and the knowledge advantage of experienced ...

Recommended for you

'Wetting' a battery's appetite for renewable energy storage

2 hours ago

Sun, wind and other renewable energy sources could make up a larger portion of the electricity America consumes if better batteries could be built to store the intermittent energy for cloudy, windless days. Now a new material ...

New system to optimize public lighting power consumption

2 hours ago

In order to meet the efficiency requirements of the latest public lighting regulations, researchers from the School of Industrial Engineers of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), in collaboration with ...

Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

Jul 31, 2014

There is much need to develop energy efficient solutions for residential buildings in Europe. The EU-funded project, MeeFS, due to be completed by the end of 2015, is developing an innovative multifunctional and energy efficient ...

Panasonic, Tesla to build big US battery plant

Jul 31, 2014

(AP)—American electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. is teaming up with Japanese electronics company Panasonic Corp. to build a battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. expected to create 6,500 jobs.

Simulation models optimize water power

Jul 31, 2014

The Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest offers great potential for water power; hydroelectric power stations there generate over 20 000 megawatts already. Now a simulation model will help optimize the operation ...

User comments : 17

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jscroft
2.8 / 5 (4) Jul 26, 2011
Why not simply scavenge the waste heat from the datacenter and sell it to the electric company, thus increasing the supply of available power and causing the price to drop? You get the same effect WITHOUT having to rent a million basements, plus the concentration of waste heat in the datacenter gives you a higher-temperature source and thus better thermodynamic efficiency for your energy-harvesting operations.
Kedas
5 / 5 (5) Jul 26, 2011
So first they move the CPUs to somewhere else "the cloud" and then they want to transfer the heat back in there. LOL
The heat was already there.
Talking about solving a problem you created.

socean
3 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2011
Data centers use servers to convert electricity into something more valuable, refined data. Part of this value is lost because the servers cannot run at infinitely high temperatures and must be cooled. So the data center has to subtract the cooling costs from its ROI on the electricity they buy.

Using waste heat as heating for homes and offices recovers some of this lost ROI, so it makes a lot of sense.

If DF's became popular they would drive ISPs to re-invest in their physical plants and deliver fiber to more homes. That's a good thing.

Additionally, its entirely possible to use heat to cool in summer via compact absorption chillers. e.g. http://www.techno...&a=f

Since the majority of the earth's population live in urban areas this idea can work very well.
that_guy
5 / 5 (4) Jul 26, 2011
A customer would purchase the unit, and have it installed

So, I'm paying to do you a service? Even if we argue that the heat generated is a value proposition for the customer, the addition of a dedicated line for every server, rather than a single trunk line for all of them will offset most or all the savings. On top of that, most of people don't properly maintain their cars, much less their heaters.

The proposed implementation of this idea is very impractical. However, economies of scale suggest that instead of marketing this idea to individuals, perhaps they should market it to office buildings, where they can handle larger chunks, have professional maintenance, and have existing infrastructure that can be used...
paulthebassguy
2.8 / 5 (16) Jul 26, 2011
This is one of those ideas that is good "in theory" but practically it would be so awkward. Imagine the logistics of having to install and connect server farms in hundreds or thousands of locations.
Cave_Man
4 / 5 (4) Jul 26, 2011
Why not simply scavenge the waste heat from the datacenter and sell it to the electric company, thus increasing the supply of available power and causing the price to drop? You get the same effect WITHOUT having to rent a million basements, plus the concentration of waste heat in the datacenter gives you a higher-temperature source and thus better thermodynamic efficiency for your energy-harvesting operations.


Haven't you read 1984, they want a smart box in every home watching you and making sure you don't do anything bad.
antonima
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2011

Haven't you read 1984, they want a smart box in every home watching you and making sure you don't do anything bad.


oh SHIT !

;)

It would be very hard to coordinate, but if they have the skills and the resources then I don't see whats stop them. 3% US power savings is really enough to justify the effort
Ov3rTheHill
3 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2011
* Does not a heat pump yield 1 to 4 times as much heat per Watt-hour compared to waste heat of computation per Watt-hour?

* Would not the complexities of tired electric rates crossed with time-of-day electric rates make reimbursement difficult to estimate?

* A sizing guide for electric furnaces shows a 1000 sq ft living space in a moderate climate might require a 30,000 to 35,000 BTU electric furnace, drawing about 10 KW. Running that on a just a 20% duty cycle would amount to 24 hrs/day * 10 KW * .2 duty cycle = 48 KW-H/day. At $0.15/KW-h times 30 days, that's an extra $216/month, ouch!

* Decoupling waste heat recovery machinery from server equipment rather than integrating the two seems wise as utility lifetimes likely differ.

* In summary, this seems to me like the "femtocell" of cloud computing -- something one buys only if one has no alternative.
Thex1138
5 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2011
It would be nice if we had reliable asymmetric inter-webs from our homes and businesses...
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2011
Haven't you read 1984, they want a smart box in every home watching you and making sure you don't do anything bad.

Well, if they pay me to set up a server in my home AND I get root access, then we'll talk. Otherwise...no dice.

But as it is: most of the year I need no heating. So with such a machine heating my home 24/7 I'd have a higher expense (since I now need to install an AC to keep cool).

I can see the sense during winter time - but not for the rest of the year. This makes this scheme seem rather less than economical.
jgodse
5 / 5 (2) Jul 27, 2011
This paper takes a couple line items from the total cost of ownership and proposes to optimize that line item at the expense of the whole set of costs of ownership.

The cost savings accrued by moving servers from server farms to people's homes would be erased many times over by the costs of having to go to people's homes to fix broken servers, non-functioning internet links, non-functioning power sources, etc. The reason that companies consolidate to server farms is to standardize and optimize power sources, cooling, network connectivity, redundancy, failover, components, and operations, administration, maintenance, and provisioning, which then lets them beat down the total cost of ownership of a server. Many of those benefits would be lost if they put servers into people's basements.

How does one apply to get grant money to publish papers like this one? I have to get myself some of that.
that_guy
5 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2011
@over the hill - obviously a server generating heat is not as efficient as a heat pump. The server is going to need electricity either way. Presumably, the company is paying for the electricity used by the server. It would not be hard to have a small electrical box measuring time/power going to the server. It's spelled "Tier". But I do appreciate you running down the numbers to back up your arguments.

@jgodse - You hit on some great points that we failed or omitted to bring up :)
david_42
5 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2011
Living in an area where heating is necessary 9 months of the year, I can see this working. I know several people who run multiple servers for their own businesses and the waste heat definitely makes a difference. As far as the summer heat load goes, this can be handled with outside air and isolating the room from the rest of the house.

Using waste heat for power generation doesn't work very well, as the heat is of low-quality and the maximum efficiency is low.
that_guy
not rated yet Jul 27, 2011
To expand on David's point: Using heat for traditional power generation requires that it be above 212F for steam generators. The higher the temperature differential (Generally the hotter the heat/steam) the more efficient the power generator becomes.

It would take energy to convert the 150 degree air from the server into useful 600 degree heat for power generation, rendering the whole exercise moot.
Lord_jag
not rated yet Jul 28, 2011
Why don't they just sell a dual boot system so home PC users can rent out their processors when they don't use them - at night or when out of the home.

Imagine 300 million American home computers all online from 12am to 4am... all capable of taking a calculation task and returning an answer.

I think SETI did something like that once...
that_guy
not rated yet Jul 28, 2011
Why don't they just sell a dual boot system so home PC users can rent out their processors when they don't use them - at night or when out of the home.

Imagine 300 million American home computers all online from 12am to 4am... all capable of taking a calculation task and returning an answer.

I think SETI did something like that once...


Seti@home. There are other projects as well.
However, most people have a different outlook on something they support, and allowing a business some processor time. Also, the business would need the processing ability when they need the processing ability - not just whenever the computer is idle.

Then, from a business standpoint, there are much bigger security concerns than with a project that purely processes radio signals...
Jed_NYC
not rated yet Aug 02, 2011
It's really sad to see all these comments from people who clearly didn't read the paper. Many of these concerns are addressed in the work, including the cost of distributed maintenance. I encourage readers to look at the complete work that was published. [P.S. I am not at all affiliated with the researchers, their institutions, or their subject matter.]