"Cloud computing is hot, literally." So says a new report from Microsoft Research, which suggests that it might make a lot of sense for us all to install big cloud servers in our basements and use them to provide central heating and hot water. Behold, the Data Furnace.
It's simple, really:
From the home owner's perspective, a [Data Furnace] is equivalent to a typical heating system: a metal cabinet is shipped to the home and added to the ductwork or hot water pipes.
See? Simple! You won't even notice! On a fundamental level, a computer works very hard to convert electricity into heat while also doing some math, in sort of the same way as a gasoline engine works very hard to convert fuel into heat while also turning a wheel. In both cases, you're ending up with lots of waste heat that goes unused, and all Microsoft is saying is that we might as well do something with it.
Replacing your home's oil or gas furnace with a Data Furnace would have a number of advantages. Besides having your own little piece of the cloud within easy reach, you'd also save money and reduce pollution by essentially using the server's electricity twice: once to crunch data, and again to provide heat. A server's exhaust air is generally between 100 and 120 degrees, which is more than enough for heating the air or washing clothes.
The trick to this all making sense is to just think of a server as a heater that happens to also be a computer, as opposed to the other way around. And for a single family home, that's really all it would be. Microsoft is suggesting that instead of building a giant datacenter, a company would just sell you a server heating system and a TI line that costs (according to Microsoft's numbers) about the same as a new furnace. The servers could be old and inefficient, which would just make them better furnaces. And in exchange for you occasionally changing a filter or pushing a reset button, the amount of money that the company saves in overhead by not having to build a giant new data center packed with air conditioners would translate into cheap (or even free) heat for your house. I'm sold.