Thursday, 9 May 2013

Computer ‘radiators’ could heat homes

imageMuch of the focus on IT energy efficiency is based on minimising the cooling requirements in data centres. Much less attention has ben given to using that heat effectively, and even less to doing that outside a data centre. But French company Qarnot computing has come up with an innovative idea.

The Paris-based start-up, founded in 2010, has developed the means to provide distributed computing to its clients while at the same time providing free heating to the homes and offices where the processing units are placed.

imageThe company has developed Q.rad, a radiator that uses high performance processors as a heat source.  It connects to the internet to receive processing tasks from a central server. Using the Q.ware distribution platform, Qarnot computing distributes its clients’ workload on thousands of processors in the distributed Q.rads. There’s a built-in thermostat in each radiator so that the processor speed can be adjusted to match the required heat output.


Each Q.rad continuously records its energy use and computing consumption so that clients can be billed and Q.rad users can be reimbursed for the electricity they use. The processing services pay for the electricity, so the heating is free.

The first large-scale deployment is expected this summer, when Q.Rads will be deployed in hundreds of public housing in Paris.


Review:  As points out, there are a few issues surrounding the whole process, the major one being data security. All data is encrypted and Q.Rads are designed to stop if anyone tries to open them up, but whether that will be enough reassurance for corporate IT departments remains to be seen.

There is also the issue of matching processing demand and heating requirements during changing seasons and fluctuating workloads. It’s relatively easy to maintain the heat output – the plan is that any slack can be taken up by making processing power available to universities and other scientific organisations.  But not so easy to meet client demand for processing power during a heatwave, when the radiators will be turned down.

Nonetheless, it’s a great idea. More testing should help iron out issues of the different demands on the system. It seems to me that the best use might be alongside a data centre, so that there’s more flexibility where processing is done, while at the same time providing office heating. But under those circumstances there might be more efficient ways of distributing the heat than Q.Rads. It will be interesting to see how things develop.


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