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Industry News: Can You Heat Homes with Data Centers?

December 21, 2011

As we mark the official start of winter in the northern hemisphere today, here’s a burning question on the minds of researchers at Microsoft and the University of Virginia: can the hot exhaust air from power-hungry servers be used to heat residential homes and businesses during cold months? Better still, at what cost to the consumer? (Anyone familiar with the balloon effect on energy bills when the mercury drops and programmed thermostats rise, please contain your excitement until after the demonstration!)

A newly released white paper, “The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing,” imagines a future in which a “metal cabinet is shipped to the home and added to the ductwork or hot water pipes,” thereby providing an alternative method of heating via computer equipment while offering three key advantages:

  • Smaller carbon footprint
  • Reduced total cost of ownership per server
  • Closer proximity to users

On paper, it’s a win-win. Not only does it open up new avenues (literally) on which to store ever-increasing data, it makes practical and positive use of the exhaust heat generated from high density technology equipment. While a network miles away runs smoothly off the computations taking place below your feet, you’ll be sipping hot chocolate and keeping extra warm above.

But all that glitters (or in this case, beeps and hums) isn’t always gold. Apart from the obvious obstacles of ensuring security, performing routine maintenance and planning for scalability, there’s the logistical issue of reconditioning exhaust heat into viable supply-side air within the residence – which adds more up-front cost right back into the equation.

F-Series TeraFrame with Vertical Exhaust DuctAs the pioneers of CPI Passive Cooling®, Chatsworth Products, Inc. is no stranger to the many benefits of air isolation. In both hot and cold environments, our engineered solutions have shown that the segregation of exhaust air in a total site solution can offer up to 90% in data center cooling cost savings. And while we’ve yet to install a TeraFrame® or GF-Series GlobalFrame® Cabinet with a Vertical Exhaust Duct in anyone’s basement (just yet), we’re quite happy to say that our proven solutions consistently help maximize efficiencies at some of the world’s largest and most complex installations.

There’s certainly no telling how, when or if a data center-like environment will ever make its way into our homes. Then again, if keeping up with the Joneses someday requires a rack, cabinet, cable management or otherwise, you can rest assured that CPI will certainly warm up to the idea! Jeff Cihocki, Global eContent Specialist 

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