Data centers, reducing energy usage by heating and distribution

In delivering computer process power and storage capacity there are apparently two opposite approaches, the cloud computing mega data center  “bigger is better” and the local nano data center “small is beautiful”. The current “bigger is better” model of cloud computing leads, although shifted from customer to supplier, still to enormous capital expenditures, problems in power usage and cooling, power supply (Critical Areas for Transmission Congestion) and leads also to some structural vulnerabilities in terms of resiliency and availability of the infrastructure. The alternative p2p data center approach leads to questions about delivering enough “horse power”, network capacity, network supply and the governance of such a distributed system.

A new paper from Microsoft Research,” The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing” added a new perspective to this discussion. They propose that servers, dubbed as Data Furnaces (DF’s), should be distributed to office buildings and homes where they would act as a primary heat source.

According to them the problem of heat generation in data centers can be turned into an advantage: computers can be placed directly into buildings to provide low latency cloud computing for its offices or residents, and the heat that is generated can be used to heat the building. By piggy-backing on the energy use for building heating, the IT industry could grow for some time in size without increasing its carbon footprint or its load on the power grid and generation systems.

The Data Furnaces (DFs) would be micro-datacenters on the order of 40 to 400 CPUs that would be integrated into the house/office building’s heating system. Examining a number of climate zones in the U.S. and operational scenarios, the researchers say that when compared to the US$400 cost per year for a server in a conventional data center, the estimated savings per DF per year range from $280 to $324.

In the paper, the researcher focused on homes as an illustrating example. But as stated by them similar approach could be used to heat water tanks, office buildings, apartment complexes, vegetable farms, and large campuses with central facilities. See also the bog entries on nano data centers   and the OZZO distributed data centers concept. As for the combination of greenhouse farming and data centers (symbiotic data centers) have a look at the site of Parthenon a company in the Netherlands that is working on this concept.

IT infrastructure and energy infrastructure get more and more intertwined.

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