If you have a small office space or use a laptop on your commute, you’ll be familiar with the heat (and, sometimes, the whirring sounds) that a working computer generates. Most are fitted with internal fans to help dissipate that heat. But what if, instead of disposing of this wasted energy, we made use of it?

Dutch company Nerdalize is trialling a new heating system based on this idea.

It replaces traditional radiators with data-storing computers that are constantly online and producing heat as a by-product.

Whether the system can work on a large scale is up for debate (more on this later). Although, if it does, it could be a solution to more than office heating issues.

The cloud is not a cloud

As you know, data storage for cloud computing is big business.

This is because all digital information stored in the cloud actually requires a physical computing system somewhere in the world.

These computers are usually held in specially-built centres, with tens of thousands of servers working constantly to store and retain digital information.

Facebook and the freeze

Let’s use an example.

Your Facebook profile, with all of the pictures and updates, is stored along with millions of others in a data centre in Lulea, Sweden.

Facebook uses a system known as ‘passive cooling’ to keep its huge network of computers cooled with minimal environmental impact. Instead of cooling the air down it allows controlled amounts of cool air from the already cold climate to enter the building.

The Nerdalize solution

In other data centres, owners spend large amounts of money on cooling systems. Many centres use traditional air conditioning, which eats a lot of energy.

In fact, in 2010 data centres accounted for around 1.5% of global electricity consumption.

Nerdalize’s solution is to install small data centre units in homes and businesses.

Each unit connects to the Nerdalize network via fibre optic cables. The heat generated by the unit is used to control the temperature within the building. When the desired heat is reached, the user simply switches on the extractor fan, redirecting the heat outside.

Although there is a small set-up fee, Nerdalize does not charge for heating, which means that users can make significant savings on their home or business gas cost.

Nerdalize makes money by selling cloud data storage. The company is currently running a year-long pilot and trying to improve its services.

 Other server solutions

Of course, Nerdalize is not the first company to try to divert heat from servers into more useful ventures.

In France, Telecity is creating an on-site Climate Change Arboretum in which scientists are growing plants from around the world. They aim to study the potential effects of climate change and to see which species are most resilient.

In London, the Telehouse Westdata centre will divert the heat to local homes and businesses, while in Switzerland IBM are heating a local swimming pool.

Data security and speed

At the moment, Nerdalize still has some issues to iron out before it can move ahead with the scheme on a large scale.

Some companies have raised concerns over data security, speed of data access and the cost of running remote servers.

With your cloud spread across buildings over which you’ve no control, how can you be sure data is safe?

Certain companies, largely in finance, rely on being a nanosecond ahead of the competition, and having servers close together can make the difference.

But with more companies across different sectors looking to cloud storage to solve their data management issues, there is potential for the future of a cloud that’s smart about using heat.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within the British Gas Business Blog are those of the author alone and do not represent those of British Gas. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this blog are not guaranteed. British Gas accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright in the content within the British Gas Business Blog belongs to the authors of such content and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within the British Gas Business Blog are those of the author alone and do not represent those of British Gas. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this blog are not guaranteed. British Gas accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright in the content within the British Gas Business Blog belongs to the authors of such content and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. For more information about the mix of fuels used to generate our electricity simply visit britishgas.co.uk/business/about-us. You can find information about how to make a complaint at britishgas.co.uk/business/complaints.