If I run my PS4 for more than a couple of hours, it puts out a lot of heat. In fact, it will turn my usually cool man cave toasty warm. Other than some discomfort, which I can control by opening the windows, the heat it produces does not cause any problems. However, hot exhaust generated by servers can cause serious problems, especially in a data center.
Aside from the fact that a server typically runs 24/7 and generates more heat than your average consumer appliance, confining thousands of them in an enclosed space requires complex and expensive heat mitigation and cooling techniques. Everything from sophisticated ventilation to refrigeration has been used with varying degrees of effectiveness. Nevertheless, no matter what solution is used, a lot of energy is lost as wasted heat.
A Dutch startup called Nerdalize has come up with a novel approach to the problem of server heat mitigation. For a small fee, the company will install a server in your home to heat your water. You save about €300 per year on your heating bill, and they get an efficiently heat-mitigated server rack which they will use to sell cloud-based services. The company claims that the savings will pay for the installation fee in 18 months.
The pilot program will start this August in 42 households in the Netherlands. Nerdalize estimates that the energy savings per installation will reduce each household’s carbon emissions by 300 tons per year. Over 126 tons of CO2 will be eliminated by the pilot program alone in its first year.
Providing "free heat for everyone and [making] cloud computing sustainable and affordable," is the company's founding goal.
This endeavor is not Nerdalize’s first go at harnessing the heat of servers. According to the BBC, five homes participated in a previous pilot program in 2015, which used a single server as a sort of wall heater. The results were less than promising as the heaters were slow and did not put out enough heat to warm the entire room.
The company is not letting the results of the first pilot slow it down though. This time it has partnered with Eneco, Holland’s energy provider, to reach more homes and provide oversight of the energy usage.
How is replacing one heating device that runs efficiently on natural gas with another device that runs inefficiently on electric going to save energy and money for the homeowner? That is where the partnership with Eneco comes into play.
Eneco will monitor the amount of energy being used by the servers and then divert that cost to Nerdalize’s energy bill, so the homeowner does not get stuck with the server bill. The result is homeowners do not have to pay the cost of heating their water and Nerdalize pays the cost of running its server while not having to pay extra to cool it. This reduction in operating costs also means that they can offer cloud services for 50 percent less.
However, there is still the obstacle of managing servers that are spread out over a large area. Technicians will have to travel to individual racks if they are all spread out. Even confining the servers to the same neighborhood is going to require much more time and work when managing the servers.
What about data security? Companies might not like the idea of having their data hosted on a server that is not under full control of the hosting company. Hopefully, this is something that Nerdalize has thought through.
Nerdalize says its business plan is a "win-win-win" situation. Reducing the consumer's energy bill, thinking the carbon footprint of all involved, offering services at half price, and mitigating server cooling costs -- sounds more like a win-win-win-win to me. It is a clever idea, as long as it works.