Home heating provided by cloud servers is now a reality

Data furnaces heat homes with dispersed cloud servers. The first eRadiators are getting installed now.

Heat your home with cloud servers
Credit: Nerdalize

One of the problems with traditional data centers has always been that the servers create a lot of heat. And that waste heat needs to be disposed of to prevent server components, switches, and other parts from overheating and malfunctioning.

Various solutions have been tried over the years, including building data centers near the sea so cold sea water can be used for cooling. Facebook built a site in Sweden near the Arctic Circle to take advantage of ambient cooing—it's cold up there.

And of course, expensive grid-powered air conditioning is the default solution.

Data furnaces

Dutch company Nerdalize reckons it's got a better answer. It suggests getting rid of data centers, distributing servers throughout communities, and using them to heat homes.

And that's just what it says it's doing.

Nerdalize's Eneco eRadiators, sold for homes in conjunction with an energy supplier, are actually servers. They provide computing power for the cloud service's customers and also heat the house in which they are running.

Supposedly, everybody wins: cloud users don't have to pay for data center overhead, including cooling the buildings; homeowners get heat along with cloud services thrown in; emissions are reduced, and Nerdalize gets a business.

Costs

There is an upfront fee of 400-500 Euros ($437 to $546) for the home owner, but after that, it's all free—the wall-mounted server/radiator measures how much energy it's been using, and then Nerdalize reimburses the customer.

Heating

The heater produces one kilowatt, or 3412 BTU/hr. That's enough to increase temperature in a well-insulated 20-by-18-foot room by about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Calculator.net.

Fifteen degrees is what I typically want to gain mid-winter in Los Angeles. But, bear in mind, that's temperate Los Angeles, not North Sea wind-blasted Amsterdam.

So reckon on less square footage if you're considering this in the Netherlands.

Computing

Complex engineering models, medical research, video transcoding, and various forms of scientific computing are target markets for Nerdalize's cloud services. Docker containerization is the core technology.

Nerdalize estimates that its approach could cost about 55% less per job than cloud platforms that use a classic data center.

Limitations

In-home cloud servers have limitations, some say.

"A network of data furnaces is not equivalent to a data center," says Kamin Whitehouse of the University of Virginia, quoted by the BBC.

In 2011, Whitehouse authored a paper on data furnaces along with Microsoft. At the time, they envisioned apartment blocks heated by servers in the basement, and smaller installations in apartment living rooms.

Why didn't it work? Part of the reason is that many cloud functions require speed, and while Nerdalize does require fiber connections at its installations, it's not the same as multiple servers working "in-parallel on different parts of a dataset" and talking to one another," the BBC article explains.

Sauna anyone?

Now, you might be asking: what happens in summer? Am I going to roast? Well, Nerdalize has a solution, which is to pump the heat outside during warm days and nights. Consequently, homes need an external-facing wall, for mounting the radiator.

Likewise, you might be wondering: if the Internet goes down, will you freeze in winter?

Well, Nerdalize has thought of that and will perform dummy calculations on your server to create heat until Internet service is restored.

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