You've probably noticed how hot a computer can get if it's doing something taxing, like playing a game, for example. The same thing happens with server farms, but on a larger scale. Dutch startup Nerdalize aims to ditch the usual server farm setup and put internet-connected servers in people's homes, using the excess heat to warm the homes free-of-charge.
Nerdalize recently teamed-up with Eneco, one of Holland's largest utility companies, to put five internet-connected server units that look like normal radiators – called "eRadiators" – into people's homes. The idea is, Nerdalize covers the cost of running the eRadiators and, because it has no data center to pay for staffing and maintaining, it can offer computing power that's up to 55 percent cheaper than other server providers.
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The heat generated by the server's computations while performing tasks like medical research or engineering data for example, offers a constant source of heat that's free of charge to the occupants. The eRadiators also run very quietly, according to the firm's press documentation.
While it sounds like a winning idea, a few concerns spring to mind. Privacy worries should be easy enough to overcome with anti-tamper devices and encryption, but perhaps the bigger issue would be daily operation. For example, what happens if the servers aren't in use by anyone, do the homeowners freeze? And in summer, do they then just sit home sweltering? We asked Nerdalizer co-founder Florian Schneider.
"Well, there is usually a considerable amount of demand for computing power at all times," explained Schneider. "However that demand sees peaks and valleys as well. Heating demand is seasonal and also contains temporary peaks and periods of low/no demand. In summer or other periods of low/no heat demand we can expel the heat generated by our eRadiator to the outside, allowing us to keep our computing capacity constant without heating the home at that moment.
To address the demand for computing power we on one hand decide which computing tasks are executed where, based on heat demand. If there is not enough computing demand to satisfy heat demand we can adjust prices to stimulate demand, donate computing power to scientific research or run dummy calculations. Dummy calculations would be the last resort and are also a fail safe if the internet connection should be down for a longer period of time."
It's not clear how much the eRadiators could reduce bills by yet. Fast Co.Exist quotes Eneco as saying households could save roughly US$440 per year on their heating bills, but we'd guess this would vary wildly depending on the type of house and its insulation, for example, and testing is still ongoing, so it's early days yet.
The video below shows some more information on the project.