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Microsoft Suggests Heating Homes With "Data Furnaces" 209

Some anonymous masochist submitted a story that makes me cringe from inside a heatwave. "With a temperature of around 40-50C (104-122F), the exhaust from a rack of cloud servers could be a very cost-effective way of heating your house, according to researchers from Microsoft and the University of Virginia. Dubbed the 'Data Furnace,' these racks would be hot enough to completely replace the heating and hot water system in a house or office. Instead of building mega data centers, Data Furnaces would be micro data furnaces in residential areas, providing free heating and ultra-low-latency cloud services to nearby web surfers. Microsoft Research thinks that with remote sensor networks, encryption, and other safety measures, lack of physical security won't be an issue."
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Microsoft Suggests Heating Homes With "Data Furnaces"

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  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @09:36AM (#36882670) Journal

    It was my old gaming rig with a 3Ghz P4 Prescott.

    • I remember an article in PC World about the original pentium chips. The author suggested the ideal placement of the chip was on the outside of the case with the writting:

      "Place Coffee Here to Keep Warm"

      • Still true with many systems today - especially laptops with high powered graphics. Put your coffee next to the exhaust vent and it'll stay warm much longer :)

      • I remember an article in PC World about the original pentium chips. The author suggested the ideal placement of the chip was on the outside of the case with the writting:

        "Place Coffee Here to Keep Warm"

        Ahh yes, "nothing quite like a Pentium on a cold winter's day"

    • Heh. I used to heat the bedroom by about 10 degrees F extra w/ a dual AMD 1200 rig ...

    • I had the penultimate room-heater: a dual G5 PowerMac. I was quite able to keep the heater in that room off during most of the winter... if I wanted any extra warmth, I'd just launch Bryce and start rendering a 2048x2048 scene with full raytracing... the room temperature would rise by 15 degrees a half hour later.

    • by Locutus ( 9039 )
      don't you mean an XBox? lol

  • DUPE... again (Score:3, Informative)

    by Osgeld ( 1900440 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @09:36AM (#36882676)

    see that box up top, put in your topic and it spits out how many times you nimrods have duped your own posts

    http://tech.slashdot.org/index2.pl?fhfilter=Data+Furnaces+ [slashdot.org]

    • by j-beda ( 85386 )

      I was going to say that - only I couldn't come up with something as biting.

      http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/11/07/23/1320207/Why-Waste-Servers-Heat [slashdot.org]

      To give them credit, it has been three whole days....

    • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @10:06AM (#36883062)
      Having built the shittiest forum interface in all of webdom, did you actually imagine the slashdot staff would subject themselves to such by using it?
      • Having built the shittiest forum interface in all of webdom, did you actually imagine the slashdot staff would subject themselves to such by using it?

        Boy you're not kidding. It seems as though the /. interface kept changing over time until it was completely and utterly broken...especially in Firefox...and then development ceased...WTF?? I still have scores missing on posts all over the place...I have NO clue as to what logic causes articles on the main page to be collapsed...my own posts will show a score of 2 within the article comments and 1 on my ./ home page...I could go on. Seriously...what are they up to here??

      • by Hatta ( 162192 )

        There's one thing I can say in favor of /.' forum. At least it's threaded. Unthreaded forums are an abomination.

        • I'd say it depends on how active the forum is. Threads are nice when there's a flurry of activity, but temporal posting works when there are only a few posts every now and then.
    • by LMacG ( 118321 )

      It's not the heat, it's the stupidity.

  • For years. Seriously, who DOESN'T need a couple old Dell 2950's kicking around.

    Ignore the excessive power bill, or fist-sized power outlets if you need to go with larger units :)


  • Do you really want 10 racks of servers with high-speed fans spinning away in your basement?

    I've only got a few bits of gear in a small rack in my basement, and I can hear it on a quiet day.


    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

      Indeed.. wasn’t touched on in the article, but I would imagine some kind of serious sound proofing with appropriate baffling on the in and out ducts would be required. I've looked into so-called "sound reducing" enclosures and they cost a small fortune.. and they don't even completely eliminated noise.. just deaden it down to OH&S type levels.

      I’d also be concerned with over-heating. Assuming you are relying on ambient air temperature for cooling.

      Also things like power redundancy and network

    • Well, they're no louder than an oil furnace at least. I wouldn't mind.

      Here's the real problem: do you want them spewing heat in the middle of the summer?

      • You still need hot water in the summer. My current electric heater can't do folding@home while heating up my water so they may be on to something there.

        • I have solar hot water, free from the sun. Even now (middle of winter) there's enough sun to keep my electric hot water just on minimum bills! It's a 400 litre tank too, so plenty of hot water.

      • by skids ( 119237 )

        They are louder than an oil furnace, once you get a few of them in there. Moreover, they produce frequencies that are considerably harder on the mind.

    • by GauteL ( 29207 )

      "Do you really want 10 racks of servers with high-speed fans spinning away in your basement?"

      No. First of all it'd probably be half a rack per home (i.e. the size of a typical UK boiler) and it would probably use water cooling rather than fans, where the waste water actually provides heat and hot water for your home. It is interesting, but obviously the rack owner would have to pay some of the electricity bill in order to make it worthwhile to the home owner. Otherwise it is just expensive water and heating

    • Do you really want 10 racks of servers with high-speed fans spinning away in your basement?

      Yes, I have a 48u high rack right next to my bed. The noise becomes soothing after a while and it becomes very unnatural to not have it present when power goes out and the like.

      • Soon that ringing will be long lasting, but after a while you won't hear it any more without assistance. Just working next to an old external scsi drive for a couple years gave me tinnitis in my left ear. Can't imagine what sleeping next to a full rack would do (no getting up and walking away, no lunch breaks, etc).
        • by hal2814 ( 725639 )
          "Can't imagine what sleeping next to a full rack would do"

          Well, the worst side-effect is that sometimes in the middle of the night I'll reach over and play with the full rack and my wife will slap me and tell me to go back to sleep. Otherwise, it's pretty nice.
      • by xaxa ( 988988 )

        Why is it next to your bed? Why do you leave it on overnight?

        I live near to a very busy railway line, and a little further from another. I hear a train about every minute or two in the day, and every five-ten minutes overnight (if I'm awake). The noise isn't annoying -- there are plenty of trees in between, so it's a quiet ssssshhhh-click-clack-click-clack-sssshhh -- but it's nice when I visit somewhere in the countryside and it's completely quiet.

        I work underneath the approach path for a major (very major

    • How can this work? Great you get free heating in the winter but your hydro bill just spiked powering all these servers. Then there is the cooling you will need in the summertime when it isn't 20 below outside.

      Then as parent points out, what about the noise? There will be extra costs with retrofitting any room you have to accommodate this.

      Also the cost of the redundant high speed network connections and the lack of physical security. All this to save a couple of hundred bucks for heating half the yea

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      An old G4 is still one of the most power-efficient chips available, and it can be passively cooled. Unfortunately, I never built my BOINC space heater out of the bottoms of a bunch of old i-lamps due to almost nobody on the network using linux/ppc clients. Also most distributed projects seems to be targeting larger chunks of RAM per-node than you can fit on those boards.

      I don't fire up my Intel BOINC servers anymore during the winter, just because the noise was driving me nutty. Even with drivers for the

  • "Poppycock"

    This reminds me of nothing so much as "Diesel powered typewriter in your future!" or "Flying cars: coming soon!" from Popular Science/Mechanics articles from the 50s. In other words, never gonna happen.
    • I know. Fucking ridiculous, right? My typewriter only takes 93 octane gasoline or it starts missing vowels like crazy. It would be so awesome if I could run it on diesel.
  • ... will I have to add air conditioning to get rid of the heat?

    Typical Microsoft, providing a half-baked, but nice-sounding for marketing sound-bites, solution.

    • by pyrr ( 1170465 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @09:59AM (#36882956)

      You will just have to...

      ...open your Windows.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      ... will I have to add air conditioning to get rid of the heat?

      Been there, done that, in the basement its not much of an issue. Takes it from 60 degrees 24x7 up to a more pleasant 70.

      The problem you didn't think of was the required dehumidifier. And a working sump pump.

  • Maintenance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @09:51AM (#36882868) Journal
    And what happens when a drive goes bad at 3 am? I understand these are mostly mirroring content to be closer to the user, so all you'd get is increased latency when the data isn't more closely available, but who is going to want to have some maintenance tech over to their basement a couple times a year to replace a dead hard drive or blade server?

    And how do you handle liability? If a pipe bursts and floods the place, who eats the loss for the equipment (or whose insurance company more likely)? What about a break-in?

    An alternate approach might be to have a medium-sized data center, where all the hardware is inside a dedicated building and tended to by the usual acolytes, and have the waste heat serve as an input to a heating district of several nearby buildings. Unfortunately, 40-50 C heat is especially low grade from a building systems standpoint, so even this idea may not fly.
    • And what happens when a drive goes bad at 3 am? I understand these are mostly mirroring content to be closer to the user, so all you'd get is increased latency when the data isn't more closely available, but who is going to want to have some maintenance tech over to their basement a couple times a year to replace a dead hard drive or blade server?

      I was staying with a friend for a while, who runs a datacenter at home. The "spare" bedroom was the server room. Those 3am emergencies usually involved waking me

    • They have
      back up power
      staff on side / on call
      big data links
      close to homes not as much as this but still more local than other data centers.

      do the same thing with the phone CO's.

  • We were successfully staying off natural gas until January in Wisconsin by running a rack of servers. The cost in electricity, however, was greater than the cost of natural gas to do heating. We've realized a savings as we've virtualized. In any case, there are other problems ... for example, it isn't clear that a home would have the bandwidth to support a meaningful cloud cluster or the environment to suit, including protected power. Also, a rack of servers can be a very noisy thing, and then there's t

  • Microsoft Research thinks that ... lack of physical security won't be an issue.

    I think they've overlooked the way some households run. At my house, there's always someone awake. There's always someone within 100 feet of my computers. And, the private arsenal is stocked better than any datacenter I've seen. Well, it's better than some police stations I've seen. And as for police response, it's 3 minutes. That's not including the two households on the block with law enforcement officers living in them.


    • I think they mean physical hardware security, not physical location security.

      • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

        Where there is a will, there is a way.

        Lets say someone makes a standardized "cube" that would set off tamper alarms should the case be entered without a code inputted, it disarmed from remote, or similar. This has been done with some HP and Compaq boxes which used solenoid locking and chassis intrusion sensors.

        Someone will figure out with a fiber optic endoscope where the sensors are, and eventually find a way to bypass them. Once this is done, it is a relatively trivial matter of forensic work of dumping

    • heck i would bet that say an eight pound sledge would have you bypassing the walls directly (yes this would be a very literal brute force attack) in most buildings.

  • This would work great in frosty climates that need heating pretty much all the time, but how many people live in those areas?

    • by danpat ( 119101 )

      Me. It's 6C outside right now and snowing on the hilltops. It's the middle of summer here.

  • This is an old idea, I have heard of power plants that ship off their "cool" steam streams off to near by industry and business to provide heat so now instead of power plant waste heat it is now server waste heat. What I want to know is hosting one of these mini clouds going to generate more revenue for me than the power it costs to run it. If it can't then what is the point since natural gas heating is cheaper than electrical heating, better still would be geothermal heat pump. Come to think of it the upfr
  • That /Microsoft/ suggests this is kind of ironic, isn't it? But even without the irony, there's no excuse for power-inefficient servers nowadays (no matter what OS they run). Sure, every computer and every piece of electronics will be well below 100% efficiency, energy-wise, but c'mon, are they even trying to inch closer at all? Maybe electricity bills are still too low to justify the R&D needed to get better hardware (like, say, ARM servers)?
    • by j-beda ( 85386 )

      All electronic do-dads are essentially 100% efficient - as heaters. Other than some sound energy and a bit of electrical energy being carried away by the network connection, conservation of energy tells you that essentially all of the electric energy used by the device ends up as heat energy (where else could it go?). In terms of computational use of that energy, I think people talk about energy use per unit of computation - however it makes no sense to talk about such efficiency in percentages since there

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      there's no excuse for power-inefficient servers nowadays

      Sure there is. Its a capital expense vs an ongoing perhaps off budget expense.

      In most situations, power is cheap compared to labor and equipment. Its very easy to get in a penny wise pound foolish situation... Use half the power by spending twice as much on the equipment, and, if still in use, it'll pay for itself in 2111. That raid array is just wasting power keeping all 5 drives powered up, we'll just leave one unplugged all the time till we need it. That tape backup robot uses a lot of electricity, I

  • So will they pay for the electrical AND the data pipe to it? I get free heat...
    From what I know of Microsoft, IT will cost more than buying a 99.99576% efficient HVAC system.

  • Most home don't have any thing near what a data center has for power back up much less homes that are wired for running a big rack of systems and a cheap DIY can lead to a big fire.
    Also the power grid is not set up for that much power at the home if a full block of homes all have this. There was this block that had so many Christmas lights that they overloaded and blowed up a transformer.

    Also storms can take out power / data lines for days and the cable nodes battery can die even if you have power the nodes

  • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @10:11AM (#36883110) Homepage Journal

    Here's what Microsoft said:

    data furnaces in residential areas

    They didn't say "data furnaces in residential houses". The plan is to build these things and connect houses to them, not build these things directly inside homes. So all these comments about kids running around, insurance, etc are not relevant.

    • Yeah because the homeowners can breach those cooling pipes and nothing bad will happen, really.

      • by Tim C ( 15259 )
        Homeowners can already breach water mains, sewage and gas pipes with varying degrees of Bad Shit happening if they are of a mind to. They tend not to however.
        • I have a picture somewhere of a homeowner who breached a high pressure gas line, or the aftermath, rather. Bad Shit happening indeed.

    • by hodet ( 620484 )
      If you read the pdf from Microsoft the first line says this;

      "....In this paper, we argue that servers can be sent to homes and office buildings and used as a primary heat source."

      So I don't think people have misread anything.

    • "Hi there. I want to talk to you about ducts. Do your ducts seem old-fashioned, out of date?"
    • by Locutus ( 9039 )
      They already have this to some extent in the Microsoft Windows based AT&T Uverse utility boxes spreading around. Have you ever walked by one of those and hear the fans they require? There was also a time when the UPS batteries in those boxes were blowing up due to heating issues. Some Microsoft employee probably walked by one in Milwaukee and noticed the snow melted around it and came up with the idea of heating homes around the neighborhood.

  • by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @10:12AM (#36883128)

    What? You mean like a normal PC with a hard drive in it? Whats next, the amazing photonelectro stick, push a button and a ray of light springs out from the glass covered end?

  • So somebody discovered cogeneration (again). Isn't this the second story of this type on /. in the last week?
  • by vlm ( 69642 )

    lack of physical security won't be an issue

    Your data might not end up on pirate bay / freenet / i2p, but your copper cables and steel racks WILL end up at the local recycler.

  • by ALeavitt ( 636946 ) <aleavitt&gmail,com> on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @10:16AM (#36883200)

    Data Furnaces would be micro data furnaces in residential areas

    And each micro data furnace would be nano data furnaces, which would be even smaller data furnaces still. It's data furnaces all the way down.

    • "So nat'ralists observe, a flea
      Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
      And these have smaller fleas that bite 'em,
      And so proceed ad infinitum."

      --Jonathan Swift

  • In Alaska and canada maybe, anyone who lives somewhere that actually has weather where you heat up in winter and cool off in summer this would appear to be a counterproductive system. Save $100 a month in november-january plus say get reimbursed an additional 100 a month for data services, pay an extra 200 a month on cooling march-october.
  • Think of the year around electrical cost to run the servers. It is hardly worth it. If companies are worried about heat, build a damn data center at the poles and use the waste heat as part of the power generation, if possible. You could also harness the wind for power as well. This clearly wouldn't work for desert dwellers like me or indeed much of the United States, because, it gets awfully hot during the summer as recent records are being broken. Your air conditioning bill would go through the roof.
  • Microsoft Research thinks that with remote sensor networks, encryption, and other safety measures, lack of physical security won't be an issue.

    Well now I feel much better. Microsoft says that security won't be a problem. What a relief! For a moment there I was worried. Now I can ponder this new definition of "free" coming from Redmond. Is that free as in cracked Windows Activation or free as in after you pay for the installation and the monthly maintenance fee free?

  • 1. It needn't be IN your house. You could just build a cluster of houses or apartments near the data center.
    2. It needn't run all year long, or if it does it needn't vent into the apartments all year long.

    I think this sort of thing is fairly common. I've been to universities and schools that were heated with steam. Heating a bunch of buildings from an efficient energy source is a sensible idea. If you're going to have a data center anyway, it's probably not a bad idea to make use of its excess heat rather

  • MS is obviously ignoring the real solution to this heat: low power architectures like ARM.

    If they could make this heating system a reality, it would ensure the life of x86 which they are deeply invested in as tons of server apps still use native x86 code. They may be able to switch over their own server apps but some other apps might get ported.
    Additionally, with people buying new server systems they may decide they are fed up with paying MS, their non-ported server apps, paying for expensive cooling syste

  • When heating with an air-conditioner, the efficiency is not too good, but not too bad. 1 kWh electric energy = 5-6 kWh heating energy (equivalent). So there is a ratio of 1:5 to 1:6.

    When heating with just electricity, the ratio is 1:1 (1 kWh electic energy = 1 kWh heat equivalent).

    In the end: nice joke from Microsoft.

  • What would be the energy tradeoff running a cloud data center vs conventional heating power consumption? I'd be willing to bet that it's not very cost effective.
  • I've already been doing this for years, with a Compaq ML370 server, and 4-5 other misc servers in my "server room". During the winter I barely needed to turn on the furnace. Sucks during the summer though.

  • I assume this server heating system would also function during the summer?

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"