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Nerdalize: warm house, cheap datacenter (nerdalize.com)
29 points by trumbitta2 on Nov 23, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 34 comments

Here's a potentially much better idea. Build server farms near greenhouses and pipe the heat over to them. Heating is the single largest expense for greenhouses, more even than labor.

If the servers were in modular units such as semi trailers you could place however many you needed for the size of greenhouse range. Since greenhouses tend to be grouped in regions such as Cleveland, OH and Kalamazoo, MI you'd have your servers in a small enough area for a single person to be able to service them.

Getting a "Database Error" - cached link: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nerdali...

Server probably overheated.

This kind of proposal has been cropping up for over 15 years now and always end up not really working out. We actually looked seriously into this as an option when we moved into a new office and two major issues were immediate dealbreakers:

1. The depreciation cost of new hardware made this economically a no go. With second hand hardware, there was some number fiddling you could do to make it kind of work until it required any kind of human intervention whatsoever, then the labor costs dwarf the savings.

2. Computer enclosures are not designed to minimize the db/W/$. Low noise computers are generally achieved by reducing the power of parts and using expensive materials. High wattage computers tend to be extremely noisy. We couldn't be having a noisy heating system in our workplace, distracting everybody.

Doesn't depreciation apply equally to servers in dedicated datacenters? I think the bigger issue is the cost of going in and reparing/replacing parts when they break.

Physical access to a computer is complete access, in terms of security. Therefore, this cannot be used for most computations. Latency is also an issue. A lot of computations can locally be done more cheaply and efficiently if two long journeys must take place with each unit of work at a distance. Ergo, this is likely to be viable only for "public" computations like Bitcoin mining or Folding at home. Public computations usually are poorly funded. Therefore, this business plan is unlikely to succeed without some vast innovation in terms of distributed computing reaching the masses. Example: Intelligent job scheduling ala Google Omega and beyond.

That may be cheap, but once you see a little traffic spike coming from Hacker News, all you get is an "Error establishing a database connection."

And that is why to this day I always carry a stick of butter in my purse. Also, that is why I always enable WP SuperCache and nginx proxy_cache when running a WordPress site. Or just use a static site generator.

And that is why to this day I always carry a stick of butter in my purse

That sounds a like a reference, but I don't know it. Could you explain?

Sorry, probably a bit of stupid humor on my part. American Dad! season 6 episode 10. Francine and Stan have been married for a really long time and Francine always tell Stan the same story: she got her head stuck in the staircase banister and her mother got her out using a stick of butter, so now she also always carries a stick of butter in her purse in case of emergencies.

This is mildly like the situation where you should always slashdot-proof your web servers if it's easy to do, just in case some piece of content you have on there gets slashdotted. I feel like I say this so much that it's become my "stick of butter" story.

How would this work during the warm months when heating is not needed?

Heat hot water for house and use forced air ventilation over cheap heat exchanger (vented to outside) for excess heat after that?

Also, could duct the heat into the clothes dryer maybe?

I think Google uses a technique that could be put in this setup: heat the water in the toilet cistern, flushing disposes the collected energy.

Hmm, interesting. At first seems more hygienic but on second thought, it might make it extra-aromatic when depositing bodily excretions into the hot water. Perhaps not a big deal though.

But given that water has a high specific heat, that could be a way to dispose of a lot of excess heat.

I would use it to heat up my swimming pool instead of the 400,000 BTU propane heater I have on it now.

> prices much lower than any other provider

Does Anyone know their pricing? Qarnot Computing [1] does a similar thing and their solution is at €0.25/hour for “quad-core processors loaded with 16 Go of RAM”.

[1]: http://www.qarnot-computing.com/computing

The economics of this do not work.

A house typically gets residential electrical service, ranging from 10-18¢/kWh in most of the country.

A server farm or datacenter typically gets general or industrial electrical service, at a savings of >5¢/kWh off the residential rate.

So, either you compensate the homeowner for the extra power cost (why?) or expect them to eat at least part of the cost.

This service would need some of the following to happen in order to be justifiable:

•A specific reason to have a server in a specific town (perhaps as a data collection or distribution center)

•Lack of suitable space and reliable power in an area, making residential or remote the only option

•A residential client capable of taking on general or industrial power rates (some apartment complexes or buildings might)

•Ridiculously low power costs and a constant need for low-grade heat (eastern Iceland perhaps?)

According to the site, they pay the homeowner the entire cost of powering the server. They claim to save "60% of TOC" for not having to buy a dedicated datacenter building and cooling system, which sounds reasonable in the short term (although, eventually a datacenter-builder will recoup the costs of construction, while an electricity premium is constant.) It looks like homeowner also pays Nerdalize to sign on- which may make their balance sheet more reasonable, but is also only a short-term advantage if the server is leased indefinitely.

In the long-run, they're probably just banking on people paying a modest premium for "green computation."

I think this is cool, but I don't think the homeowner should have to pay up front for this datacenter in their home. I would be much more convinced to adopt this if I didn't have to pay for something that could be potentially loud, not work well, etc. For one thing, it just seems a bit scammy -- "Hey, just pay us to be our facility"! Also I don't think what the homeowner gets back from this system should be hinged on the usage of Nerdalize's services.

Lastly, what about electricity? I mean these things have gotta use a whole lot more electricity than a typical heater. All of which, I'm guessing, is again paid by the homeowner.

Leasing the computation equipment is a sensible way to bootstrap the process. There's risk associated with siting a computer at someone's home; if the homeowner has some money invested in the computer, they're less likely to walk off with it, repurpose it, or accidentally damage it.

If there's a developed home heating/computation market, homeowners would be happy to invest in a compuheater.

I think that a better way to hold homeowners responsible would be to charge them for damage rather than charge them for simply having it. It would probably convince more people to join in the first place.

This brings me to your second point -- the problem is precisely that there ISN'T a developed home heating/computation market, which is why it would be difficult to convince people to use it (considering they have no idea if it will work and what trouble it could cause them).

It does say they pay you back for the electricity, that's the whole point.

Ok, well that's good. But this doesn't really answer my other questions

This general theme is something I'd love to do and have talked about with others in the past. It looks like Nerdalize and Qarnot aren't quite ready for prime time.

I'm sitting next to an electric space heater that's heating our office. It's cold. If there's someone out there with a trivially installed image (think knoppix) that wants to pay for computer time, please send me an email. If the rate is sufficient to pay for the retail purchase of a computer and electricity in a winter season, I'm in.

Here's a Microsoft Research paper on a very similar idea, from 2011: http://research.microsoft.com/apps/pubs/default.aspx?id=1502...

This would be useful with SHA256/scrypt miners to mitigate costs.

I was considering doing this with my Litecoin miner. Its fans pull hot air from my GPUs at 85ºC which makes its room warmer than my bedroom. Maybe I should move it to my room and turn off the heater...

Are most home internet connections sufficient/allowed to support a datacenter?

All I can see at present is a cached home page, but it could be that the appliance has its own connection? Logically Internet over Power Line if they have that where this company operates. I'd want to keep their data stream separate from my own if I had such an appliance in my home.

Hmm, I don't think heating is a strong enough use case. What about as cloth dryer? Those things uses a lot of energy to produce heat and you need them even in hot summer. Especially in dense city apartments.

A water heater may be better - warming incoming water to save hot water cylinder bills or heat a pool if there is enough heat. Something that needs short bursts of heat would be harder to implement. I know someone who uses a waste water to raise the incoming water temperature 1-2 degrees C and it saves a measurable amount of money on power bills.

You're obviously not sitting next to an electric space heater and typing with cold hands :).

As long as the pricing pencils out, using computation to provide winter heat can be a win-win for everyone who needs computation, heat, and a planet.

Seems like I wasn't the only one who thought of sleeping in the server room when the weather was getting too cold.

I wish I could put varnish in front of their web server for them.

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