Heating homes and offices with computers?

Speaking as a life-long resident of the Northern Great Plains, I like this idea:

A new paper from Microsoft Research The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing suggest a radical but slightly mad scheme for dealing with some of the more basic problems of the data centre. To put the problem into perspective it is worth mentioning the estimated 61 Billion kWh of electricity (3% of total consumption in the U.S) that servers consumed in 2006.

The basic idea is that chunks of silicon get hot as they compute and we sometimes need heat in offices and homes so why not make use of the heat to keep us warm. Instead of using dumb resistance to convert smooth flows of electricity into turbulent heat why not get a computation to do the same job. Small silicon heating elements, called Data Furnaces or DF, would replace resistive elements and provide data processing at the same time as heat.  A DF would consist of between 40 and 400 processors and provide all the heat that a family home ever requires at around 40 to 50C.  You would take delivery of a DF and connect it to the house air ducts, some power and of course, the internet.  It also hasn’t escaped the researchers that using DFs would also create a more distributed cloud computing with the processing and storage located where it was most used.

This is an illustration of one of the principles that Dan Burrus talks about in his book Flash Foresight: go opposite. Most people think that the heat generated by data centers and server farms is a problem. Someone at Microsoft Research looked at it and asked “What if we view that heat as an opportunity or a resource instead of a problem?”

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