07-03-2023 | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, green cloud computing service provider Heata has launched a new scheme to provide UK residents with free hot water, providing that homeowners install a Heata cloud computing server attached to their hot water tanks. This server, which uses solar energy to power its processing, also helps to reduce CO2 emissions and heating costs in the home, making it an environmentally-friendly option for remote computation and data centre management. What climate challenges does cloud computing present, how does Heata plan to solve this challenge, and could the future of cloud computing be in distributed networks?
Data centres have long played a critical role in the computing industry thanks to their ability to collect and process massive amounts of information. In fact, thanks to the increasing bandwidth capabilities presented by fibre, data centres are now commonly used for real-time cloud computing applications, whereby devices take advantage of remote data centres to process complex tasks and receive the results as needed.
But while the idea of cloud computing is a very old one (dating back to the first mainframe systems), the rapid dependency on cloud services is introducing engineers with numerous challenges, including the need for low latency connections to support real-time processing, cheap power sources to keep costs competitive, and higher density storage solutions to retain all the data being produced worldwide.
However, another challenge is beginning to face engineers, which, if left unchecked, could have severe consequences. The ongoing climate crisis has seen all areas of industry affected, whether it is tariffs on CO2 emissions, reduction of hazardous substances, or the move away from fossil-derived fuels and materials, but so far, one area has remained relatively untouched; data centres. But, as new data shows that the amount of CO2 generated by data centres is starting to grow, currently accounting for around 1% of all emissions, it won’t be long before data centres become the target of politicians and activists.
The emissions challenge presented by data centres comes from two main factors; the need for massive amounts of energy and the enormous amount of heat generated. As processors in data centres need to be kept as cool as possible, air conditioning (AC) is essential, and running AC is an extremely energy-intensive process.
One solution to get around the AC challenge is to install data centres in cooler climates, but in order for data centres to provide low latency and high bandwidth, they often need to be located close to users (i.e., cities and towns), meaning that there will inevitably be servers in deserts and tropical climates. As AC systems are unlikely to become any more efficient (due to the laws of thermodynamics), the amount of CO2 produced by data centres will only continue to grow.
Heata, a cloud computing service, has recently announced the launch of a new scheme that aims to reduce the CO2 footprint of cloud computing to provide customers with a more climate-conscious solution. Simply put, UK residents will be able to apply to have a Heata server installed in their home, and the resulting heat generated by the server will be used to provide hot water. The electrical costs of the server will be reimbursed by Heata with a 10% additional incentive, and all costs associated with installing and maintaining the server will be footed by Heata.
The server is attached to the side of a typical water cylinder used to store hot water, and as customers use the distributed cloud computing service, the generated heat is transferred into the hot water cylinder. According to Heata, customers can expect to get around 4.8kWh per day of heating which is enough to run kitchen sinks and the odd shower. Overall, this scheme is expected to save up to £200 per year.
To ensure proper safety, the Heata server has been tested by British Gas engineers and will take an engineer around two hours to fit. With regards to data bandwidth, it is believed that the server will use minimal amounts of data during downtime and will conduct periodic download speed tests. While this may adversely affect homeowners’ broadband capabilities, it is unlikely to be an issue with the vast majority of internet users. At the same time, Heata is planning to roll out its own network so that devices can connect to the internet independently of a homeowner’s connection.
The server, designed and manufactured by Heata, is solely for use by Heata and cannot be accessed by the homeowner. As such, the only benefit homeowners get is a reduction in their heating bill and the knowledge that they are helping to reduce the climate impact of human technology.
Whether or not the Heata server will provide homeowners with a significant advantage is yet to be determined, but future computer systems could likely shift away from centralised servers in favour of a more decentralised network.
One such example of how this could become popular is data control. If individual users host their own servers at home whose sole purpose is to provide remote computing capabilities, it is possible for personal data to be carefully monitored and controlled. For example, a remote server at home could provide a user with all the computational power they need for self-driving vehicles, AI assistants, and sensor readings, but the data would be held locally on the server and not at some remote location.
Of course, the other advantage to having home servers creating distributed networks is the ability to take advantage of locally generated green energy. As many new homes are being installed with heat pumps and solar panels, the installation of cloud-computing systems locally to homes would help reduce the energy losses incurred from using kilometres of power cables and voltage conversion. By reducing energy losses, CO2 generation can be reduced, thereby helping to alleviate the climate crises, albeit it is significantly smaller compared to eliminating fossil fuels.