back to article Microsoft boffins propose cloudy home furnaces

A team of Microsoft and academic researchers has come up with a proposal for using cloud computing not as an energy drain, but as a source of country-wide energy savings by turning cloudy servers into home and office furnaces. "In this paper, we argue that servers can be sent to homes and office buildings and used as a primary …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    Setting aside that I don't know a single geek who hasn't already thought of using the heat from computers to heat a house for a moment.

    Microsoft are telling us to bin computers in the house and use Cloud Computing TM as it's better somehow despite the connectivity issues. They are now proposing that we let them keep their cloud in our house and still pay them rent? Are they retarded?

    1. stucs201

      Actually I do know one geek who didn't think of it

      The one at university who used to switch his PC on in hot weather because it had a fan in it. He did physics too so should have known better.

      (Although this was only a 386SX, so not quite as toasty as a modern PC)

  2. dogged


    Not puzzling. Hothouses.

    1. The Cube

      Not puzzling, dope farms

      Using the exhaust of gas turbine cogeneration plants to heat greenhouses is popular in the Netherlands. I would suggest, however, that your average basement dwelling geek would find the thermal signature of the MS Azure rack to be an excellent cover (after the first couple of times the local piggies smash the door in and beat him up for not having any dope) for a dope farm...

  3. Nigel 11
    Thumb Up

    I've been suggesting this for a long time ...

    ... in a more conventional way. Don't use conventional air-conditioning to cool the server farm by pumping heat to the outside of the building. Use a heat pump that pumps heat into the building's central heating system. In winter this will reduce or eliminate the need for conventional heating from a boiler. This way, only in summer would you be dumping heat to the outside of the building.

    For big server farms in small buildings, the central heating system should be extended into an area heating system, i.e. to adjacent premises.

    Future server farms should go in cold locations, like Alaska or Finland, whenever speed-of-light data lag isn't a big issue.

  4. Breezedave

    Stealing my Ideas

    Microsoft's stealing my ideas again. I've been petitioning work for a data-centre powered sauna for years.

  5. Michael Shelby

    I need to check my calendar...

    Feels too much like the first day of April!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm thinks there may be more than ONE disadvantage.

    "Speaking of disadvantages, they do recognize one glaring one: hot days."

    And just exactly WHO is going to pay the "LECCY" bill for these servers? Hmmmm?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Shhhh !

      Don't you get it ? This is MS management's new cost reduction plan : ship servers to customers and lose the electricity costs. It'll look good on the balance sheet, somebody will get a bonus and everyone is happy.

      Except the tech who has to go check on the servers after hours because nobody is there during the day. And the manager whose project is unavailable because the server is down and nobody is there to reboot it.

  7. Timo

    maybe not

    With all of the rain we've been getting in the Chicago US area, some people have gotten FEET of water in their basements. I'd take a rack or two but it better be waterproof!

  8. Len Goddard

    Oh, yeah

    I'll take half a dozen to keep my swimming pool warm ... if I can just persuade M$ to build me a swimming pool.

  9. Brian Miller

    This isn't new, but it's new to Microsoft

    I've been doing this for years with my computers, and it was typical to pipe Cray installations into the building HVAC system.

    1. multipharious

      Exactly...not new stuff.

      I worked with a largish company in the Munich area that uses their data center waste heat to supplement heating using a heat exchange system. This served an additional function of cooling the air in the data center air circulation system and minimized overall energy consumption required for cooling. Good idea in my humble opinion.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    AudiGuy is totally missing the point. This is intended as a replacement for those who have electric heat. Those people are ALREADY paying for the electricity to heat their house, but that electricity is doing nothing useful. This way it fulfills a purpose. Presumably you are compensated in some way, either by getting a free furnace, or by getting paid for the computational time your furnace supplies.

    As for hot days, well obviously you only run the server(s) when you want to heat your house, so the computation is less available during the summer and during the daytime. For many tasks (think Folding@Home or SETI@Home) you don't need the same amount of computing power available all the time. This is clearly not something Google could do to power their search engines...

    If this was reasonably well distributed around the globe however you would have reasonably constant computational power, since half the globe has night when the other half has day, and whenever it is summer in one hemisphere, the other has winter.

    Its a relatively obvious idea, but it would take someone like a Microsoft or Google to actually make it happen on a large scale.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Ahhh...Doug...'s time for your medication now. Come in and be a good boy, and take ALL your pills this time. OK?

      You know you get a little wacky when you don't.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It's for medical reasons, honest officer.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Actually, I thought about this over 5 years ago

    When I was working as a contractor for a firm in Chicago, I actually did the math on the 2 Sun Fire E15Ks that were getting a lot of TLC from facilities.

    In the configuration which we had, the maximum BTU output was something like 87000* per hour each - easily more than the furnace in my house.

    I actually commented to the facilities manager that I'd be happy to take one into my basement - you know, DR offsite - if they'd pay its electric bill and slice off a domain for me on it. He respectfully declined.

    Nuclear explosion - because that's a lot of heat.

    * Give or take

  13. KNO3
    Thumb Up

    Been there done that

    Our data center is located in the basement of a 20 story building. In the winter we pull cold air from outside, heat it and give it back to the building.

    Using hot and cold isles, we dump the heat once it reaches 85 in the hot isles with a controlled duct fan. This provides us with a higher energy savings. The cold isles maintain 68. There were unique challenges. If you have questions, contact us via our website. The savings are well worth the effort.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE:Been there done that

      If you're going to use non standard units you should mark them as such. 68 degrees Celsius is very hot for a cold isle.

      That said, you never mentioned degrees either, so you could have meant inches, or PSI :)

      1. Charles 9

        If you're talking to an American...

        ...then Farenheit IS standard and Celsius the outlier. Plus, we're talking temperature, which leaves usually those two and the absolute (Kelvin) scale. And the numbers only make sense under Degrees Farenheit.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          re: If you're talking to an American

          One nation using a unit doesn't make it a standard. Celsius is an international standard used by pretty much everyone BUT the americans. The numbers do make sense in Celsius, they would just indicate a hot system.

  14. Notas Badoff

    Winter flurries without the furries

    Did this 15-some years ago. Laid off but "could you finish this last project?" So ended up with 6 PCs under desk and tables in work room at home. And even with the window wide open in January could only stand 3-4 powered on at a time. In shorts only in the winter with the central heat off and almost sweating.

    Finished the project before "spring fever" set in. They were quite happy.

  15. Knoydart

    Housing upgrades are a good start but

    +1 for the heat pumps. Has been done on a large scale already with a Data center. I was terrible at thermodynamics but someone better sit down and work out how many servers you´ll need to warm the house otherwise its well a load of hot air!

    What about the connectivity as well. Would anyone want a could held together by consumer grade DSL?

    Fire well, its keeping you warm

  16. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    We Have...

    ...discussed the concept on these very pages.

  17. umacf24

    Heat pump

    If you want something above mildly warm, put them outdoors in the shed and use as the cool end of a heat pump.

    Another advantage of Outside is that provided MS are still willing to pay the electric bill, they can run in summer without cooking the house.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Great Idea, But...

    In World were we still waste the heat extrated by refigerators and feezers; let alone the heat in a cooker after the roast dinner, were it could be used to heat up the hot water is clearly showing a legacy issue in design implementation.

    WE still can't agree on a standard wall socket for power let alone frequency, worldwide. Heck the closest we have come to that is the USB port,

    So we end up with great idea's that everybody know's makes sence but alas the cost to implement can only be accomodated if it is catered for by design and planned out initialy. Sure hindsight os great but look at the UK raileway structure, becasue any improvements have to use the existing infrastructure you are limited to what you can do and in this case, bigger trains, longer trains etc are limited. The only way around that is to majorly upgrade the existing tracks/stations and the cost and impact of doing that is far greater than just doing a new one in conjunction, not like you can get a train into london across london and out the other side without having to change already so it's doable from that aspect.

    This leads us back to the whole crux of it that it's viable for new building accomodating this approach more than modifying something already inplace and alas the ability to pump hot water into homes in the UK is somewhat limited. Iceland on the other hand you could probably do that, though only becasue they already do that using already natural thermal resources to heat the water.

    But back to microsofts proposed future patent pool. Distrubuted processing aka cloud computings has some uses, but what there proposing is in many ways moving into area's the utility companies are more suited to accomodating and indeed implementing. Heating and cooling would be a logical progression for them, though nightmare to manage and that leads us onto the other area and that is if your cloud cluster is pumping out X amount of heat 24/7 then you need to realy have that heat being not the soul source of heat needed and indeed the miniimium, unless you also control the workload. You have to also look at the variying usage and indeed cost of electricity of the 24 hours of a day and indeed vairations and what impacts that (yes we all know TV does and kettles). This is were you get the human factor and we're not very good at planning, heck why a kettle has to be able to boil water in seconds instead of doing it in a more fuel effecient way and take longer is a great example and something that wont change soon - who would pay for a kettle that took 15 minutes to boil though used half the electricity of one that boiled yoru water in seconds; Whilst that may be a few pence that most will happily pay for the conveniance of having it now, multiplied by all those who take that approach and you see one of the many issues in managing resources.

    So for a few niche area's this may have some ground though there are clearly way more wasted heat and other resources that we have already that could be better refocused.

    What next, cordless mice that have small balls at each corner that charge micro dynomo's powering the mouse so the more you use it the more power you use the more power you generate; go invent that microsoft and stop stating common sence like it's something nobody has thought of with the angle to patent it.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    I got confused....

    When you wrote "Microsoft boffins propose cloudy home furnaces", I thought it was going to be about taking any PCs with Winblows on them outside and setting fire to them to make a hugs cloud of smoke.

  20. GoGlen

    Think city-scale or larger!

    New York has a maze of pipes, still in use today, that carry steam from a central furnace to lots of industrial consumers.

    Not sure about efficiencies, but could heat pumps scale like this?

    However, my first thought was turning Canada into a Data Furnace, much like Iceland is virtually energy independent due to geothermal.

  21. Glenn Charles

    I'll take the server.

    And, like most people who use computers, I have no curiosity. None at all.

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