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How to Heat Your House With a Cloud Computer Server

A German company is installing servers in homes and offices to recycle heat

(© Roy McMahon/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

As the weather gets colder, perhaps you're hugging your old overheated laptop a little closer. Now, imagine taking that concept to a larger scale. In 2011, Microsoft Researchers outlined an idea for a new type of home heating—harnessing the waste heat from computer servers to heat buildings. 

"Cloud computing is hot, literally," the researchers explained: as the fastest growing industrial sector, it soaks up over 60 kWh of energy a year in the U.S. That's more than 3 percent of total energy usage in the country. Meanwhile, heating accounts for about 6 percent of the total energy consumption in the country. The solution seems simple: make "data furnaces" that could serve both purposes.

Across the Atlantic, one company is now trying this idea out. IEEE Spectrum reports:

Cloud&Heat is a German company that has started offering “distributed cloud heaters,” which are big insulated metal cabinets that access your water tank and are crammed with hard drives, controller boards, and some fans. The idea is that you’d buy and install one of these cabinets for about the same cost as a conventional heating system, and hook it up to your ducting, water system, electricity (3 phase at 400v), and Internet (at least 50 Mbit/s). Cloud&Heat pays for the Internet connection and the power required to keep it running, and you get as much warm air and hot water as the servers in the box can produce, free of charge, as it quietly performs cloud computing tasks.

There's still reason to be skeptical -- there's not a ton of information available from Cloud&Heat right now, as Datacenter Dynamics points out

As always, I'm left with some questions. How real is this? How many heat customers does the company have, and does it have any arrangements with other cloud providers to supply extra capacity if there is a mismatch between heat and cloud demands?

And as Slate points out, there are security issues: "anyone’s data could be in anyone else’s house at a given time." Cloud&Heat plans to solve that problem with encryption and locks on the server cabinates. Perhaps this winter we'll see if consumers warm up to the data furnace idea. 

About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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