I read an interesting conference paper proposing the concept of a Data Furnace. The idea is that instead of placing servers in large server farms that must use significant power for cooling, smaller clusters of servers can be be distributed to locations that can use the additional heat, such as homes and apartment buildings. While cloud computing is over-hyped, it is a useful concept and its use will continue to expand, requiring many more servers. Since the power will be used for the servers anyway, and since a significant amount of power is used for heating in other locations, the authors propose that these power uses be combined. As the former owner of a DEC AlphaStation, I can really appreciate the heat put out by some computers. That one workstation was easily sufficient to heat one room in the winter. While using the heat generated by servers isn't a new idea, the method proposed in this article has the advantage of requiring less new infrastructure.1
While natural gas is currently an excellent heat source (at least in the USA), as our power sources inevitably switch to wind and solar, our furnaces will have to be changed to electric and electrically driven ground source heat pumps. The Data Furnaces proposed in this paper are a fascinating option for providing the electrical portion of the heat generation. In reading this paper, I thought of a number of expansions and tweaks on this idea that I hope to have the time (and resources) to explore.
- The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing also available at Microsoft Research
- NYTimes: Turn On the Server. It’s Cold Inside.
I remember reading an article several years ago about a server farm in Finland being used to provide district heating, but cannot find the reference. It is likely the same as is mentioned in the NYTimes article. ↩