Although a furnace and a server rack are rarely ever confused with each other, they do share two of the same traits: they both create heat and cost loads of money to power. The chief difference between the two is that heat is a negative byproduct of servers and the end-goal of furnaces.
This strange correlation led the geeks over at Microsoft to come up with a novel idea: use the heat generated from large-scale computing equipment to keep businesses and residential buildings toasty warm. It sounds so foolishly simple it must be brilliant.
The main concept behind Microsoft's (News - Alert) idea is the data furnace. The software giant's researchers have come up with a plan to place cloud computing equipment directly into the basement of buildings – rather than in server farms – and to combine it with the facility's ductwork and hot water pipes to create a new heating resource.
Microsoft has said that the idea will not only minimize heating expenses, it will also create a smaller carbon footprint. In addition, having cloud computing equipment in close proximity to users will increase performance.
"We propose to replace electric resistive heating elements with silicon heating elements, thereby reducing societal energy footprint by using electricity for heating to also perform computation," the researcher wrote in an exploratory paper. "The energy budget allocated for heating would provide an ample energy supply for computing."
Microsoft speculates that piggy-backing on half of the energy used to heat buildings could allow the IT industry could double in size, all without increasing the current carbon footprint. The researchers feel that office buildings and apartment complexes would be the most ideal targets for data furnaces, but they did not rule out residential homes.
The paper says that 6 percent of U.S. energy use is attributed to home heating, while computer servers use about 3 percent of the nation's total. If these massive energy-sapping industries can be combined in some way, consumers and businesses may be able to cut down on two of their biggest expenses.
When looking at Microsoft's idea from a usability perspective, a few major flaws come into focus. First, the chief benefit of cloud computing is that you don't need to store the servers yourself. Why bother hiring a third-party to manage your equipment when you have to keep it right downstairs?
The second issue is security. Cloud computing already comes with inherent risks, and having your servers attached to a heating unit in your basement will only heighten these security concerns.
While Microsoft's idea sounds good in theory, it would be hard to imagine that it ever leaves the "concept" stage.
Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Rich Steeves