Servers use a lot of energy. They use energy to run, get hot and then use even more energy for the air conditioning that keeps the waste heat at bay. In order to combat this inefficiency, which is only bound to increase with the booming popularity of the cloud, Microsoft has proposed an interesting, if far-in-the-future solution: Distribute cloud servers to businesses and homes for use as heaters.
“Data Furnaces” as Microsoft dubbed them in a research paper on the subject would provide exhaust that, while too cool for energy regenration (104-122 °F), is just right for space heating. In addition to reducing waste, the initiative also has to potential to increase the overall efficiency of the cloud servers involved by making it far more practical to locate specific servers near the areas they serve.
Of course, there are a number of caveats to this plan that, while solvable, place its potential implementation way in the future. For one thing, servers tend to be big, and heating systems are complicated. If and when anything like this becomes possible, it probably won’t be coming to any already constructed houses. Then there’s the matter of security and reliability. If you’re a company considering throwing a server in Joe Schmo’s basement (or a customer thinking about buying space on that server), you’re going to want to be 1000% percent sure that server is reliable and physically secure and that the data on it is sufficiently encrypted.
The deal, while beneficial to both parties, would definitely require the server’s owner to trust Joe Schmo with an expensive piece of hardware. Given that the proliferation of servers could drastically reduce how much it costs for a cloud company to run its servers, however, it’s a kind of deal that might happen years down the line when energy costs have (presumably) gone up and servers are faster, more reliable, and in high demand. It probably won’t be happening any time soon, but it’s nice to see that the cloud might have a future other than towering server obelisks that burn with the heat of a thousand suns, impressive as that may be.