Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Bits of heating

I love this idea, but wonder about its practicability.
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.
I had thought that data centres required pretty strict climate control; achieving that over massively distributed systems would require more than a few techies who could be dispatched from the NOC in case of temperature fluctuation or other circuit faults. It would be a bit surprising if those costs didn't outweigh the cooling plant cost reduction; on the other hand, they have started moving data centres to the Arctic circle.

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