Researchers at Microsoft have proposed the idea of heating our homes and offices with a bank of computers known as a “data furnace”. The growth of cloud computing has resulted in the creation of vast server farms: data centers filled with the large number of computers needed to keep websites and applications on the internet. These servers run continually, producing excess heat. And the energy used to keep these servers cool enough to function can be staggering.
The idea behind cloud-computing heat production is to relocate sets of servers to residences, where their excess heat could be used in place of a standard furnace. Homeowners would pay owners of the servers for their heat, instead of paying a gas or fuel oil company. Servers that can have some downtime, either for hours, or months, when heat is not turned on, would be used. Data centers would realize a huge energy savings if they did not have to air condition servers as they do now.
There are a number of issues that need to be resolved before this kind of system could function. First, the servers would have to be physically secured from damage or tampering, and all data on them would need to be encrypted. Then there is the larger issue of relocating, and keeping track of, thousands upon thousands of servers distributed across the country. But because servers are themselves part of a network of distributed systems, this is well within the realm of the possible.
The future is closer than you think. Cloud computing may not only change how we work, but also how we stay warm. One day you may be getting your heat from the Cloud.