Paradigm shift: Eliminating waste heat
In a comment on my recent blog entry, Mads points to water-cooled systems from Sun. In another comment, John mentions a project he’s involved in that may or may not get the goahead to harness heat from a data centre.
Following Mads’s link, I see Sun claims its watercooled systems to 40% more efficient than some alternative – presumably one that would be equivalent in functional terms. Whilst 40% may be better than nothing, it’s still a helluva lot of waste. You could say you waste 50% more than you save. What is missing from Sun’s pages is any suggestion of harnessing that energy and putting it to good use.
What Sun should produce, and what could make the decision much easier for John’s project, is systems in which capturing and re-using waste heat is integral. A plumber should be able to able to plug them in to a normal heating system, just as they would another heat source like a boiler or immersion heater. That is a paradigm shift in computer design, and it is indeed manufacturers such as Sun who are best-placed to take the lead in it.
On a smaller scale, manufacturers of desktop and home computers could perhaps do something similar. A computer with builtin water cooling, that could be plugged in to the cold water supply feeding a domestic water tank. So the computer’s waste heat goes into the household or office heating/hot water, and less energy is required from conventional sources. The cooling system is plumbed in, but the computer’s innards need to be accessible so components can be changed whenever necessary.
In the case of desktop-replacements, that’ll work best where the water tank is within bluetooth range of the desk for connecting peripherals. But if the idea takes off, we’ll soon see it incorporating longer-range options, such as a terminal that just plugs straight in to a wireless router (whose heat should really also be captured), or wired mini-boosters. The principle is simple: concentrate energy use in the plumbed-in components, and minimise it elsewhere.