Data center servers can generate enormous amounts of heat. A startup in Germany is the latest organization to suggest that the heat coming from these systems could be used in homes and other buildings.
Cloud & Heat Technologies, which was founded in 2011, is a cloud-based computing services company that is proposing housing cloud servers in buildings. The servers will be linked to the Internet, while the heat generated by the systems will be used to heat the building and heat water, according to officials.
The proposal would help address IT as well as environmental issues, they said. The network of distributed cloud servers would provide high availability, reduced latency in access to data and protect against downtime. At the same time, the heat created by the systems—rather than being dissipated into the air outside of a data center—is used to heat a home or office building, enabling the owners to significantly reduce their heating costs or eliminate them overall.
The idea of using heat from data center systems is not new, though it's also not widespread. Engineers with Microsoft Research and the Computer Science Department at the University of Virginia in 2011 issued a research paper advocating for the idea of housing data center systems in homes and buildings, which would take advantage of the heat they generated. They called this approach "data furnace," and for cloud vendors, such a model would hold several advantages over traditional data centers, including reducing their overall carbon footprint, cutting the total cost of ownership per server and bringing computing closer to end users.
For homeowners, they key benefit would be reducing heating costs.
Tech vendors have used the heat generated from data centers to heat nearby company offices. For example, IBM and the state of Montana in 2010 announced the creation of the Big Sky supercomputer that comprises IBM System x and System p servers and offers a cooling exchange system that leverages IBM's Cool Blue technology. One of the side points about the system was the heat generated by the cluster is being used to heat the offices on several of the supercomputing center's floors. At the time the system was announced, proponents estimated the facility would save about $40,000 in heating costs.
In June, Hewlett-Packard officials announced a new family of supercomputers under the Apollo name, including the Apollo 8000, which is a water-cooled model. HP officials said the heat captured by the supercomputer's cooling system can be used for such tasks as heating adjoining offices and rooms.
Other startups are beginning to emerge to embrace the idea. A company from the Netherlands called Nerdalize is building a product officials call the Nerdalize Grid Heater, which essentially is a traditional building heating system that also houses computing capabilities. The computational power of the systems is sold to organizations in a grid computing model.
Cloud & Heat, which is housing its systems only in Germany, is looking to use its servers in a distributed cloud computing environment. Building and homeowners pay about $15,000, and Cloud & Heat will install a cabinet that houses computing systems. The housing unit is hooked into the building's heating system to offer heat to the building or to heat up water, according to the company. Cloud & Heat pays for the electricity used to power the compute systems.
When the heat isn't needed, it is vented outside of the building. The systems use temperature sensors to determine when the server heat should be sent outside the building. The home and building owners have the systems installed for at least 15 years, during which time the servers are serviced and updated occasionally.
The DataSafe compute cabinet is fireproof and tamper-resistant, and is hooked into an alarm system. The data is protected through on-disk encryption, and is stored in myriad locations so that the failure of a single system doesn't put the data at risk. The systems also are in compliance with German data safety laws.
In addition, the broadband connections for the servers are separate from the private Internet connections in the buildings.
Cloud & Heat offers a range of systems that support Linux or Windows and offer one to eight virtual CPUs. The company offers cloud compute, block storage and object storage services.