Microsoft wants to use the cloud to heat your house

Microsoft has had some interesting products over the years, but we haven't seen them going for household utilities yet. In a paper that's recently shown up on Microsoft's Research site, the company demonstrates a concept to heat households using "Data Furnaces" which are actually distributed cloud servers.

In the research paper, Microsoft makes a case for using servers as a replacement for heaters in houses, saying that "cloud computing is hot, literally" and that "computers can be placed directly into buildings to provide low latency cloud computing for its offices or residents, and the heat that is generated can be used to heat the building."

The paper speaks in very simple terms, stating that a "computer server is a metal box that converts electricity into heat" and the exhaust air is around 40-50C which is "perfect for heating purposes, cloth dryers, water heaters and agriculture." The company appears to be doing the research in the interest of carbon footprint reduction, saying that if they replaced half of home heating with these data furnaces, the IT industry could "double in size without increasing its carbon footprint."

It appears Microsoft has done a lot of research with the paper providing a deep level of information that  details how the servers could be installed and how they could work. For example, a server (or Data Furnace) could be configured to process data during the winter at night, but not as heavily during the summer in order to keep temperatures down. The company also points out that they could use older servers to reduce costs because their inefficiency and higher heat levels would be ideal to heat a home.

Microsoft thinks they could save anywhere from $280 to $320 USD a year per server compared to having it housed in a data center. They even say in the paper that they could replace actual furnaces with servers and charge consumers the same amount, thus generating income on the server as well.

As global warming issues become more pressing and prices go up, Microsoft appears to be exploring options other than building new datacenters across the world as it looks to minimize not only its costs, but also the impact of these installations on the environment.

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34 Comments

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Presenting something like this the week after I've had a few days of 35C+ doesn't make for a very convincing argument. The AC unit I have is already working overtime, and I "only" have an i7 running roughly 10 hours a day and a 50W Atom 24/7.

This is no-where as crazy as it seems. In Europe, a lot of cities have District Heating networks, where heat is generated and spread across a number of buildings. Energy Services Companys (ESCOs) distribute the heat and manage all the finance. The trick is that you need a good range of individuals and organisations to sign up, as businesses and individuals use heating at different times. Data centres could be good providers of this too, and a lot of planning policy in the UK is becoming geared towards encouraging these. Glad to see Microsoft's jumping on board too...!

The heating in my study is off because of my PC. Although I hate a hot house anyway, I always try to sneakily turn the heating off anyway :-)

In the future, computers are going to be more efficient and cooler, so it might not be worth doing this.

satus said,
Nice Idea but Who will pay for the electricity bill? That's the question

Probably doesn't matter. An electric heater and a server rack probably use about the same amount of electricity - not to mention that the electricity usage could be (probably would be) subsidized by Microsoft/owner of server. You forget just how inefficient heaters really are.

Dead'Soul said,
and... what about summer? will it cool my house?

dont be silly, thats why you leve your freezer door open during the summer.

Ha..my desktop alone does a pretty decent job of raising the temp in my room. You can almost always tell (especially in the winter) whither I've been home all day or not, by the temp in the room. It's always really cold in here when the computer's been off all day. Less cold in the summer, but still cold nonetheless.

wow. I didn't see this comming. And it's a really good idea. Let's see MS_Bob and MSLose32 try and knock this.

For an engineer that would be a great idea! to use energy that today is being dissipated in to the atmosphere, and tomorrow with that same amount of energy u do 2 jobs, cloud service and heater. obviously if that happens in ure house the energy used by the server would be paid by the company, don't know why some people think they are not...lol
second the people that have this server or servers have to use less energy to heat the house, if u have common sense and know about thermodynamics would think its a great idea to use energy(heat) that today is being wasted.

Stupid idea, I would think that it would cost less to use a gas heater or electric heater that's on a timer/schedule than a server on 24/7 using lots of power.
Also could be a physical security risk to the company using the servers in other peoples residents.
Not to mention unreliability of power source, environmental variables to take into account, this is why there are "data centers", to keep the servers safe, reliable, easy to access.

sta1ns said,
Stupid idea, I would think that it would cost less to use a gas heater or electric heater that's on a timer/schedule than a server on 24/7 using lots of power.
Also could be a physical security risk to the company using the servers in other peoples residents.
Not to mention unreliability of power source, environmental variables to take into account, this is why there are "data centers", to keep the servers safe, reliable, easy to access.

Cost who less? For the resident of the property, it would be free, plus you get free heating. These servers would be running somewhere else anyway, so...

The rest of your points do make sense though.

I wonder what sort of pipe (data) these servers would be sitting on, would be nice to make use of that too

sta1ns said,
Stupid idea, I would think that it would cost less to use a gas heater or electric heater that's on a timer/schedule than a server on 24/7 using lots of power.

Stupid until you consider having to air condition a server room in the middle of winter.

sta1ns said,
Stupid idea, I would think that it would cost less to use a gas heater or electric heater that's on a timer/schedule than a server on 24/7 using lots of power.
I agree, Having servers and heaters costs alot less than just servers... >_>

I pretty much already do this with my server and desktop computer. The external radiators that move the heat from the computers (Via Water) in to the house make the house quite warm and I rarely put on the central heating unless it's very cold in winter.

shamburg said,
That sounds great, but you have to figure your cooling costs in the summer are going to be much higher.

They can shift the cloud resources to the southern hemisphere then.

Ye I've not been using my air-con through the winter as much since the PC is on and most likely to be on overnight. I guess it adds a degree to the room temperature.

That's a great idea. I always used my computer as a space heater over night by turning up the fan speed and running the processors at 100%. But whether it's a cheaper overall energy cost, I'm not sure.

Enron said,
That's a great idea. I always used my computer as a space heater over night by turning up the fan speed and running the processors at 100%. But whether it's a cheaper overall energy cost, I'm not sure.

Seriously??

Enron said,
That's a great idea. I always used my computer as a space heater over night by turning up the fan speed and running the processors at 100%. But whether it's a cheaper overall energy cost, I'm not sure.

But you was reducing your CPU lifetime anyway.

Enron said,
That's a great idea. I always used my computer as a space heater over night by turning up the fan speed and running the processors at 100%. But whether it's a cheaper overall energy cost, I'm not sure.

I just open the door leading to my garage and turn on my Mazda RX-8. Rotary heat is the best!

Majesticmerc said,
That is actually a really good idea!
Yup, it is. However, I am not sure what the logistics are going to look like.

Majesticmerc said,
That is actually a really good idea!

Yeh I like it, but who pays the leccy bill for it?

I also hope this means that "inefficient" servers aren't encouraged

Majesticmerc said,
That is actually a really good idea!

Not really. How many more servers holding duplicate data would they need to compensate for the fact that these houses have no fire supression or backup facilities?