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Power Technology

Energy Company Trials Computer Servers To Heat Homes 160

New submitter MarcAuslander sends this Associated Press report: Eneco, a Dutch-based energy company with more than 2 million customers, said Tuesday it is installing 'e-Radiators' — computer servers that generate heat while crunching numbers — in five homes across the Netherlands in a trial to see if their warmth could be a commercially viable alternative for traditional radiators. The technology is the brainchild of the Dutch startup company Nerdalize, whose founders claim to have developed the idea after huddling near a laptop to keep warm after their home's thermostat broke and jokingly suggesting buying 100 laptops. Nerdalize says its e-Radiators offer companies or research institutes a cheaper alternative to housing servers in data centers. And because Nerdalize foots the power bill for the radiators, Eneco customers get the warmth they generate for free. The companies said the environment wins, too, because energy is effectively used twice in the new system - to power the servers and to heat rooms.
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Energy Company Trials Computer Servers To Heat Homes

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  • Great idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @03:21PM (#49330065)

    ...except during summer when it'll be churning out heat and you want it cool.

    • Re:Great idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @03:22PM (#49330077)
      It could be used to generate hot water, too.
    • by jep77 ( 1357465 )

      ...except the average daytime temps in the Netherlands in Summer often could still use some warming.

      • Average summer daytime temps are 17-20C which is about what we heat to in the winter in Canada. (regulations vary from 18-21C as a minimum)

    • by Sowelu ( 713889 )

      So don't run it in the summer. I'm guessing you pay for the original hardware, and they pay for the energy bill to run it--so it's a decent upfront cost, but great savings for you long-term. If they don't heavily subsidize the original purchase, you don't get any benefit or harm from owning it without using it, and they don't get any benefit or harm from you having it in your house but turned off. It doesn't need to be user serviceable so they can really go all out in trying to spillproof it. In the end

      • The computing power will be needed all year round but the heat won't be - that was my point.

        • by itzly ( 3699663 )

          In the summer, you dump the heat in a river or in the air.

        • by Sowelu ( 713889 )

          I don't see how it's _needed_. Depends on the tasks. I guess I kinda see it as rooftop solar...if it's bright and everyone has extra, cool, they can sell it back to the grid and (in a perfect world) electricity is cheaper overall. If it's cloudy, you still need the electricity, so you get it from somewhere else.

          Alternately maybe they're just mining bitcoins, so crunching numbers means extra cash but it's not mission critical to everyone.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @03:48PM (#49330393)

        In summer, you only crunch negative numbers, obviously...

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      But it gets to run full blast 24/7 for the other half of the year.
  • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @03:21PM (#49330067)

    "What do you mean, you can't come out to fix my hard drive until next week? Don't you know how cold it is outside?!?!?"

  • The article says nothing about what happens during the summer months. You just shut down the servers then? (HTTP 707 Error: Server on summer break).
    • The article says nothing about what happens during the summer months. You just shut down the servers then? (HTTP 707 Error: Server on summer break).

      They probably install a duct to just circulate outdoor air through the unit. In The Netherlands the average high temp doesn't get past 70F/21C so there are few times when you would have waste heat that you couldn't use.

      Plus, these are no doubt highly distributed redundant systems (cloud, as it were) so turning them off and relying on servers elsewhere is a viable option.

      • And, as a bonus, you can always heat water - showers are (hopefully) always in style.

        Even preheating water can save a significant fraction of your power bill.

    • look up summertime temperatures in netherlands.

    • by Alomex ( 148003 )

      This is Europe. No one here works in the Summer.

  • I have had the fancy that in the future the computers with the most processing power in your home would be the devices we currently use to just generate heat. Things like hairdryers and electric ovens would be massively powerful computers full of graphical processing unit like chips. Crunching fiendishly difficult computation while performing their normal function, just generating heat is waseful.

    Now it seems this random idea is coming true, I hope many of my other random ideas don't come true for the saf

    • by eyenot ( 102141 )

      "What are you trying to do, destroy us all?!"
        -- Zac Hobbes, The Quiet Earth

    • by Holi ( 250190 )
      Sounds like it would be extremely expensive an inefficient to get my computer up to the same temp as my furnace, not to mention horrible on the computer parts.
  • by Uruk ( 4907 )

    Who bears the risk of junior spilling a juice cup all over the expensive servers?

    • by eyenot ( 102141 )

      Who bears the risk of junior spilling a juice cup all over the current heating furnace?

      Obviously the server should be kept in the utility room (or basement) where junior doesn't usually play, and protected within some housing that doubles as a means of keeping the hot air collected so it can be ventilated at specific places throughout the home.

      • Then it will make a pretty useless damned radiator, won't it?

        If you are trying to use this thing as central heating, then I'm betting all of the possible benefits pretty much go away.

        If you want central heating, use central heating. If you want a radiator in a room to give spot heating, do that.

        But putting a giant toaster in your basement to then circulate the heat around? I'm pretty much certain the laws of thermodynamics would say that's a terrible way of doing it.

        For central heating, the existing solut

        • by myrdos2 ( 989497 )

          But putting a giant toaster in your basement to then circulate the heat around? I'm pretty much certain the laws of thermodynamics would say that's a terrible way of doing it.

          No less efficient than any other central heating system.

          For central heating, the existing solutions would work far better than inefficient electrical appliances generating hear.

          There is no such thing as an inefficient electrical heater, unless you're venting the heat outside or something. Because all the waste energy is given off

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          Heat is heat, it's maybe less efficient to redistribute it throughout a house than in a single room, but a rack of servers puts out a lot of heat.

          You would want a thermostat that controls an input damper and an output damper, so that when it called for heat the servers recirculated the indoor air and when it didn't, the severs drew air from outside and output it outside. An existing furnace could provide supplementary heat if the rack's heat output wasn't sufficient.

          I think the bigger idea has a lot of dra

  • I think this idea sounds like a bunch of ...
    *takes of glasses* ... hot air.
    * YAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHH *

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Data centres are data centres for a reason... redundant high speed backbone connections, and redundant power supplies (with generator capacity). As well as physical security, non-destructive fire suppression, and trained on-site technicians. Heat dissipation is just the current focus because all of the other (real) problems have been addressed so well.

    • Data centres are data centres for a reason... redundant high speed backbone connections, and redundant power supplies (with generator capacity). As well as physical security, non-destructive fire suppression, and trained on-site technicians.

      Sounds like a lovely place to live. I'd move right in. Are there any view apartments?

  • They'd like a few thousand installed in all their employees' homes. Fon't worry about after install support we'll take care of that.
  • Thats what ive been doing in the winter months, only used the heater a handful of times.. usually when its under 0F. But yeah usually keeps the home above 70F inside.
    • by davek ( 18465 )

      In the long run, I think this will be the only way digital currency becomes profitable.

      I imagine giant server farms in Alaska, Canada, and Russia, all with liquid-cooled ASIC processors, keeping both the bitcoin network alive AND providing heat to their local communities. Win win.

  • Sure using the heat is great, but then use it to heat the corporate building it is housed in. A server needs a regulated environment not 110 degrees in the summer and -10 in the winter. It needs humility and dust control. And most of all it needs a room not filled with 5 yos and hot choco, and a teenager bouncing a ball off the outside of it. No competent insurer would even give insurance for commercial server in a residential house. There is no economical way to distribute servers into residential houses.
    • by Ionized ( 170001 ) on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @03:55PM (#49330443) Journal

      clearly you are an expert in this field and have done all the necessary research to determine whether this could be pursued in a trial rollout.

      unfortunately, the project is not being run by experts such as yourself, it is being run by random dudes that just troll the internet posting drivel in comment threads. they are doomed!

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      A server needs a regulated environment not 110 degrees in the summer and -10 in the winter

      I keep my furnace and hot water tank in a dedicated room like most people. There aren't ever 5 year olds and hot chocolate in it.

      It also tends to be pretty constant temperature; not ranging wildly from 110 to -10 on any scale.

      It needs humility and dust control.

      Honestly even average smb server rooms/closets lack anything beyond rudimentary ventilation.

      No competent insurer would even give insurance for commercial server in a residential house.

      Yet they'll insure a $10- $20,000 worth of home theatre gear in the living room without batting an eyebrow. I'm pretty sure they won't blink at a couple feet worth of cheap dell blades in a dedi

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      There are already places in the Netherlands where they have combined electricity/heat plants. The waste heat from the electricity generator is pumped around underground conduits for heating houses.

      You could combine these plants with extra computer server rooms. Start with cold water, run it through the servers, send the warm water into the steam generator where it will take less energy to turn into steam. Send the hot water to the houses.

      • Which is a commercial enterprise. You are talking about dedicated government of business run installations, not installing them in residential homes.
  • by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @03:49PM (#49330401)
    I don't know where to begin with what's wrong with this idea.

    What is it they say about computer security? I remember - no system can be defended if the hacker has physical access. Real data centres have high security : guards, locked doors, and even inside the building the servers are within their own locked cages. Let me know me what hosting companies are proposing to house their servers in Joe Sixpack's basement, and I'll avoid.
    • by adolf ( 21054 )

      And despite this commonly-held belief, it took *years* for the PS3 to be cracked open, with millions of units in the field, without guards or locked doors.

      Physical security is a hell of a good start toward stemming the tide, but it doesn't hold a candle to systems that are actually secure.

      I used to heat a large 2-bedroom ground-floor corner apartment with waste heat from computers and audio gear. It did have baseboard heaters, which did get used once or twice on the coldest nights, but often there was a wi

  • A company who hosts its servers in random people's houses?

    While an interesting social experiment, this looks like a very self-limiting market.

  • ... home computer, too.

  • http://tech.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

    Seriously guys, when Microsoft 1.) had the idea years ago, 2.) has the investment capital to give this a viable shot, and 3.) with Azure, has an immediately viable and marketable need for a set of servers that can be dynamically powered up and down...and THEY haven't gotten it to be a viable idea...I sincerely doubt that a startup in the Netherlands will have greater success.

    To be fair though, one would imagine that the Netherlands is colder, for more of the year, than the m

    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

      http://tech.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

      Seriously guys, when Microsoft 1.) had the idea years ago, 2.) has the investment capital to give this a viable shot, and 3.) with Azure, has an immediately viable and marketable need for a set of servers that can be dynamically powered up and down...and THEY haven't gotten it to be a viable idea...I sincerely doubt that a startup in the Netherlands will have greater success.

      It's worth noting the Netherlands is going to have better broadband service to network those far-flung servers with.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @04:06PM (#49330567)

    A dial on the side of the server ranging from:

    1) Allow Single thread only
    2) Allow Multiple Threads
    3) Allow Multiple Cores
    4) Enable GPU Access
    5) Start Java processes
    6) Disable port blocking
    7) Run NortonAV
    8) Run Chrome
    9) Compile complex C++ Template-base Project
    10) Enable Adobe Updater

  • It is called a Seagate 10000rpm SCSI drive.

  • I have an old Optiplex 280 and 270 running FreeBSD and Debian servers respectively. They are also stacked. When I turn them on, they quickly outpace any space heater. A couple of unusually cold winters ago, I used them just for that.
  • This sounds beyond useless. Going by my Mac Pro tower, and my $30 electric radiator: Mac Pro, expensive, never really gets all that warm, did almost nothing to warm up my room, draws more power. Electric Oil Filled Radiator, Wicked cheap, warms my room nicely enough, draws less power them my Mac Pro.
    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      This sounds beyond useless. Going by my Mac Pro tower, and my $30 electric radiator: Mac Pro, expensive, never really gets all that warm, did almost nothing to warm up my room, draws more power. Electric Oil Filled Radiator, Wicked cheap, warms my room nicely enough, draws less power them my Mac Pro.

      So, care to guess where the power drawn by the Mac Pro goes to?

      A tiny, really tiny, amount to a power LED and a little to a fan. The rest winds up as heat. You know, that pesky conservation of energy thingie. If the Mac Pro actually drew more power (which it certainly does not), then it would also put out more heat.

  • by stevelinton ( 4044 ) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Tuesday March 24, 2015 @05:07PM (#49331055) Homepage

    1. Thermodynamics: if you need to convert electricity to heat for any purpose you can get computation out for free. Electricity is very low entropy, low-grade heat over a large area very high, you can have the difference as useful computation

    2. The article makes clear these are compute servers, not data servers or web servers. They may well be bitcoin mining, or running large-scale compute jobs for universities or the local met office or rendering a movie or ... In any event you expect a proportion of the servers in any job to fail. When you think they may have failed you restart the tasks they were doing somewhere else. Most of these tasks do not need much security either. There is little to gain by stealing or changing the predicted air pressure in a 100x100x10km block of air over Belgium next Thursday.

    3. They are surely custom servers, not standard racks -- no moving parts. SSD for boot, application data over the net and a fanless design. They can be totlally sealed units entirely immune to junior's orange juice. Use mainly nonstandard form factors and they become basically unsellable reducing the theft problem and getting round some more security issues.

    3. The article says that the supplier supplies power. Whatever cable they use for that can easily have a fibre built in for data.

    4. Since this is cloud compute, it doesn't matter much if it gets turned off on rare hot days in the Netherlands, but if you care, pay the owner to open a window instead.

    • by fgouget ( 925644 )

      3. [...]no moving parts. SSD for boot,

      As far as I can tell this is speculation on your part. Past a certain weight people are not going to throw the box around. As a heater it's also quite possible that it will be fastened to a wall or something too. Not that it matters anyway.

      3. The article says that the supplier supplies power. Whatever cable they use for that can easily have a fibre built in for data.

      That however is totally unrealistic. First they say they'll pay for power, not that they will lay their own electric cable all the way to the customer to bring power. That would be incredibly stupid, wasteful and so expensive they would never get a positive return on inve

      • You are right that the no moving parts thing is speculation, but it's what I'd do. Several people have worried about disk failures and such like as a concern with the idea, and noise would also be a concern.

        Regarding cabling, yes, you are right. In densely populated areas of the Netherlands there is probably fibre to the apartment building already, but they might have a low-networking workload in mind.

  • At least commercially it is BS. In a modern DC, climate control takes up less than 9% of all electricity. Those meager savings can't make up for all the problems involved here (service and installation processes, safety issues, etc).

    • by Yomers ( 863527 )

      Quick googling on a topic shows different numbers , like "most of the world’s data centers, 63 percent of the power is associated with cooling the IT equipment" , new DC designs lowers ratio of power used for cooling to about 30%, etc. Less than 9% for cooling is in Iceland DCs, right?

      • by mseeger ( 40923 )

        Nope, Central Europe.

        State of the art for a DC is a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) value of 1,1 or lower. This means: for getting 1kwh used for a computer, you have to put 1,1kwh (or less) into the datacenter.

        This uses the adiabatic cooling, which is some kind of cheating (you are evaporating water). But water is in ample supply here (not being California).

        We are currently in the process of designing a new DC and getting the PUE value as low as possible is major design goal.

        See: http://www.modbs.co.uk/news [modbs.co.uk]

        • by Yomers ( 863527 )
          Informative, thanks for clarifying.

          From TFA - it's an energy company with existing customers, they are planning to use those for distributed computing projects - security uptime and connection bandwidth is not an issues. Servicing clogged fans might be a hassle. Obviously they are going to charge customers for those "e-Radiators" - so basically energy company pays for hardware in electricity.
  • And when are they going to start? Next Wednesday?
  • by judgecorp ( 778838 ) on Wednesday March 25, 2015 @04:44AM (#49334147) Homepage
    Whatever the drawbacks, it's worth pointing out that there are at least three other companies in this field, two of them are already offering service.

    Qarnot Computing of France has around 300 Q-Rad servers installed in homes, offices and schools, carrying out specialised work, including risk calculations for a French bank
    http://www.datacenterdynamics.... [datacenterdynamics.com]

    In Germany Cloud&Heat offers a generic OpenStack service to "cloud customers", and free heat to "heat customers" who have its cabinets installed in their buildings.
    http://www.datacenterdynamics.... [datacenterdynamics.com]

    And in New York, Exergy is still at the Kickstarter phase, but has some interesting ideas
    http://www.datacenterdynamics.... [datacenterdynamics.com] Peter Judge

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