Print 31 comment(s) - last by ontologist.. on Aug 9 at 11:12 PM

This system could cut the cost per server, reduce network latency and conserve energy

It's well understood that computing devices like laptops, computers and game systems produce quite a bit of heat. You can feel it while holding your laptop on your lap, or hear the fan running as if it's about to explode. 

Processors, video cards, and hard drives produce waste heat, and server and data centers are constantly working to cool their systems before they overheat. In fact, these centers consumed up to 1.5 percent of total U.S. energy used in 2007, which is 0.5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. With new computing services such as the cloud coming about in recent years, the problem is only getting worse. The solution? A new paper from Microsoft Research has suggested that this heat be used to warm residential homes. 

Servers, also known as Data Furnaces, cannot produce enough exhaust air at about 104-122 degrees Fahrenheit to regenerate electricity efficiently, but the waste heat could be used to heat a home or building. Microsoft's idea is to use servers for cloud computing operations to heat these homes or buildings by placing them directly inside. About 40 to 400 CPUs would be connected to the internet and integrated into the home's heating system just like any traditional heating system, allowing the Data Furnaces to be "micro-datacenters."

According to the Microsoft Research paper, there are plenty of benefits associated with this new technique. The most obvious benefit is the conservation of electricity, as waste heat warms an entire home/building and alleviates a data center's need for excessive air conditioning to keep systems cool. Also, this setup would offer lower network latency because computation and storage systems can be placed closer to highly populated areas that will use them. In addition, this system would cut the cost per server. In a traditional data center, the cost per server is $400 annually. But with the new system, the estimated cost per Data Furnace will range between $280 and $324.

The only problem would be that residential areas are less physically secure than data centers, but Microsoft says each Data Furnace would have a tamper-proof device like a networked sensor. Also, all data and network traffic would be encrypted while software running on the servers would be sandboxed and secured from the hosting party. 

If such a system was put into place, and it "piggybacked" on least half of the 6 percent of U.S. energy consumption for heating alone, the IT industry could "double in size" without throwing the burden on generation systems and the power grid.

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What about summer?
By lamerz4391 on 7/26/2011 1:01:27 PM , Rating: 2
You will spend extra on the A/C compensating for the heat produced by the servers to cool your home.

RE: What about summer?
By icemansims on 7/26/2011 1:02:18 PM , Rating: 2
Not necessarily. You can always vent the heat outside.

RE: What about summer?
By tng on 7/26/2011 1:28:27 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah, you can vent the heat outside, even in the Summer, but where does the make up air come from to replace the vented air?

Can't drag it in from the outside in my area during the Summer. It can reach 115F here in June/July/August/Sept, and that wouldn't do a already hot computer server any good.

So like everything, this is good if you need heat, but bad if you don't. A blessing in the Winter and a curse in the Summer, so how was this supposed to save energy again?

RE: What about summer?
By rvd2008 on 7/26/2011 1:37:25 PM , Rating: 2
turn it off in summer

RE: What about summer?
By rodrigu3 on 7/26/2011 1:43:38 PM , Rating: 2
If you piss in the ocean does it turn yellow?

I assume that you live somewhere in the southwest US, which means you probably have central air. How would cooling the air be any different if you vent the exhaust from the servers outside? I also doubt they would implement this in areas where it gets that warm - they would probably aim for areas that get cold and stay cool during the summer.

RE: What about summer?
By tng on 7/26/2011 2:09:55 PM , Rating: 2
How would cooling the air be any different if you vent the exhaust from the servers outside?
When you vent the hot air from the servers (from inside your home), air from the outside must enter to replace that air vented. Assuming that the replacement air is hot, it needs to be cooled. If the outside air is cool you would vent the hot air from the server to your house and make up air from outside would go directly to the server first.

I think that you would be right, would not make sense in a warmer environment, but this is about "Green" not common sense.

RE: What about summer?
By rodrigu3 on 7/26/2011 4:22:07 PM , Rating: 1
I don't think there would be a significant difference between cooling an area with servers venting hot air outside vs not having the servers at all, even if your house were sealed to be air-tight. At that point, the exhaust could, if significant enough, produce a drop in pressure inside the house to have to "replace that air," but the temperature would drop proportionally with the pressure anyway. Theoretically, if you didn't replace the air around the computers and the exhaust is great enough to create a perfect vacuum, the temperature would drop to near 0K as it does in space.

So no, if the ambient air around the servers is already cool and the servers are not making the ambient air any warmer, there will be no significant difference between servers+exhaust vs no servers at all.

RE: What about summer?
By Snow01 on 7/27/2011 10:07:07 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think there would be a significant difference between cooling an area with servers venting hot air outside vs not having the servers at all, even if your house were sealed to be air-tight. At that point, the exhaust could, if significant enough, produce a drop in pressure inside the house to have to "replace that air," but the temperature would drop proportionally with the pressure anyway. Theoretically, if you didn't replace the air around the computers and the exhaust is great enough to create a perfect vacuum, the temperature would drop to near 0K as it does in space.

This post bothers me enough to warrant a reply. But I'm trying to be nice. So I'll just

RE: What about summer?
By rodrigu3 on 7/27/2011 10:32:02 AM , Rating: 2
I'm intrigued, and I have thick skin - so I'll ask why?

RE: What about summer?
By tng on 7/29/2011 9:12:14 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think your skin is thick enough to really hear all that is wrong with your post.

RE: What about summer?
By ClownPuncher on 7/26/2011 2:43:27 PM , Rating: 2
Add some sort of Peltier system?

RE: What about summer?
By Calin on 7/27/2011 3:03:06 AM , Rating: 2
Peltier systems generate heat (they take some heat from the cold side and put out more heat that that on the hot side).
The total "heat output" is equal to the heat taken from the cold side plus the energy used by the device (which is a non-trivial amount).

Is that?
By Souka on 7/26/2011 1:07:08 PM , Rating: 2
I just have to wonder if that kid is using a Dell?

You know.. the series with the "exploding" battery packs...


RE: Is that?
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 7/26/2011 1:11:16 PM , Rating: 2
Is that a boy or a girl? :)

RE: Is that?
By kb9fcc on 7/26/2011 1:35:09 PM , Rating: 3
That's Pat. :)

RE: Is that?
By Souka on 7/26/2011 4:44:05 PM , Rating: 2
Zactly what I thought also...

RE: Is that?
By Hoser McMoose on 7/26/2011 7:13:43 PM , Rating: 2
Isn't that a picture of Justin Beiber?

By Brandon Hill (blog) on 7/26/2011 12:58:38 PM , Rating: 2
I can understand the benefits of latency and "heat" production, but what about the noise levels?

RE: Noise
By icemansims on 7/26/2011 1:01:40 PM , Rating: 2
That's not that big of a deal. You can insulate it enough and use enough directed airflow to manage the noise.

RE: Noise
By UNHchabo on 7/26/2011 5:18:49 PM , Rating: 1
My furnace makes a fair amount of noise; I can't imagine that replacing it with a rack of servers would make it more noisy, unless you exclusively used 1U servers with tiny, high-speed fans.

RE: Noise
By BugblatterIII on 7/26/2011 8:03:32 PM , Rating: 2
About half past three!

By zoogoober on 7/26/2011 1:05:50 PM , Rating: 4
You are welcome to install some servers in my home, as long as you let me piggyback on the bandwidth you run to them.

RE: Sure!
By Souka on 7/26/2011 1:10:16 PM , Rating: 3
Millions of data furnances already exist today....thanks to torrents..


By dgingeri on 7/26/2011 1:21:37 PM , Rating: 2
I certainly know how much heat my main system produces. I didn't have to turn on the furnace in my little 700sq ft apartment for the last two winters except for the few days it go below 0F. I even have to run the AC when it gets up to 60F outside. It costs a bundle to keep the AC on during the summer, but I can't run my computers without it.

I'm up to 4 systems these days (main gaming system, server for practicing for my MCITP-VA and MCITP-EA certs, HTPC, and laptop) and although they aren't all on at once (they're all off when I go to work) they still get my electricity bill up over $120 a month.

RE: heat
By DanNeely on 7/26/2011 2:46:47 PM , Rating: 2
IF you don't have noise/air quality problems that prevent opening windows using fans when it's around 60 will work for about 1/10th the cost of the AC. I have a similar size apartment and heat load, and with a good* twin 9" fan in one window and a 16" dollar store box fan in a second running in a push/pull configuration. With these I can maintain indoor temps within about 5F of the outside on the way up and 10F on the way down. This is with two LGA1366 i7 desktops running at 100% load, one is it stock the other a 40% overclock and a maxed out 5870 GPU. Swapping them out and turning the AC on during the hotter part of the year's a minor nuisance but it's worth the cost savings vs running the AC 24/7.

If you can use them box fans move more air for the dollar than smaller twin fans; I can't because one of the windows I have to use is too short.

* This cost $60ish, but moves 2x the air as the cheapo it replaced and roughly matches the box fan's airflow with about half the noise volume. I'm planning to replace the cheap boxfan with a quality model soon, on the assumption that I can get a similar performance boost.

Water heating
By RU482 on 7/26/2011 5:57:51 PM , Rating: 2
design it with a water cooling system that could supplement the hot water heating needs of the house

RE: Water heating
By DanNeely on 7/26/2011 11:00:25 PM , Rating: 2
The water in a loop generally doesn't get above about 40C, that's well short of being suitable as a hot water source.

By DanNeely on 7/26/2011 1:15:29 PM , Rating: 2
It sounds like MS has just reinvented how I've heated both my college dorm room and my current apartment.

Tanj: The landlord's (unused) heat is free but the AC is on my dollar.

Office building maybe
By nafhan on 7/26/2011 2:00:16 PM , Rating: 2
This seems reasonable for an office or apartments building, but I would imagine the difficulty of creating the infrastructure would completely outweigh any benefits. Plus... security issues: I wouldn't really like to see my data distributed to random people's houses.

Good idea, already proven
By peternelson on 7/27/2011 7:40:58 PM , Rating: 2
A large amount of excess heat is generated in datacentres, and in particular it is concentrated in one room, particularly so-called high density racks.

Recovering some of that heat is worthwhile both economically and environmentally.

A tier 4 datacentre in Sofia, Bulgaria already implemented some of the ideas here: Some recovered heat is used to heat office space and nearby homes. Even in summer it can still be useful for heating water eg pre-heat washing up or bathwater in the way solar is sometimes used. I imagine the benefits are greater in colder countries like Canada, Scotland, Scandinavia etc.

Interestingly, as datacentres are trying to improve energy efficiency, that is usually looking at the simple measure PUE (power usage effectiveness) that is the ratio of raw power going directly to power the computers as proportion of total power (when lighting, distribution inefficiencies, and in particular cooling loads are taken into account).

I raised the question at a Datacentre World conference in London that PUE does not yet take into account such examples as the Bulgaria datacentre which does not "waste" all that energy but instead gains benefit from it, possibly at a financial benefit. In conjunction with so-called "free cooling", if those heat recovery savings can outweigh the lighting and cooling bill, then effectively the full costs could be considered to powering the IT equipment. This industry focus is part of what is driving higher efficiency power supplies. Already PUE is intended for measuring improvement over time rather than inter-facility comparison, but when you throw this kind of technology into the mix, comparison is even more difficult. It also depends on typical workloads eg An idle server will consume less power than a high utilisation one, but to balance that it might also produce less water heating.

On a smaller scale I'd be quite interested in deploying some kind of heat exchanger to capture surplus heat from my couple of racks at home, mainly for water heating if it could be done at a reasonable cost.

By ontologist on 8/9/2011 11:12:11 PM , Rating: 2
I have actually been recycling server heat during past 3 winters at my Utah home. I have a micro-data center (30+ CPUs) in my basement, which I created from the ground up. It is fully enclosed on 8-inch concrete walls, fully insulated with anti-static material and is about 100SqrFt. It is fully redundant in all senses: Three, bonded broadband connections (BGP), UPS systems and unattended power generator for blackouts, redundant gateways and routers and and offsite redundant rack at my office in Japan, with a backup server at my Japan home. Anyway, I have been wondering what to do with the heat produced by the servers during the summer and whether it would be possible to generate electricity from it. So far, as some comments suggest above, I have just been redirecting the heat outside through a DIY exhaust system. Maybe I should use it heat my water, but how? Any ideas?

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