‘Data Furnace’ Servers Could Heat Offices – On Purpose

by | Jul 27, 2011

Servers should be used as “data furnaces”, acting as primary heating sources for businesses and homes, according to a study co-authored by Microsoft scientists.

In The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Virginia argue that the problem of servers’ heat generation can be turned into an advantage, with computers placed in buildings to provide low latency cloud computing while also heating space, water or even clothes dryers.

This would move storage closer to the consumer, improving quality of service, while increasing energy efficiency and reducing costs, the study says.

“From the home owner’s perspective, a DF [data furnace] is equivalent to a typical heating system: a metal cabinet is shipped to the home and added to the ductwork or hot water pipes,” the authors explain.

“Physically, a computer server is a metal box that converts electricity into heat,” they add. “The temperature of the exhaust air (usually around 40-50°C) is too low to regenerate electricity efficiently, but is perfect for heating purposes, including home/building space heating, cloth dryers, water heaters, and agriculture.”

The study argues that budgets allocated for heating would provide an ample energy supply for computing. Home heating alone constitutes about 6 percent of U.S. energy usage, they say.

IT equipment’s consumption of electricity has been skyrocketing in recent years, and it has become a major source of energy demand. In 2006, the IT industry used 61 billion kWh of electricity, or 3 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, the study says.

By piggy-backing on only half of this energy, the IT industry could double its size without increasing its carbon emissions or its drain on the power grid, the authors say.

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