The Cloud, the Computer, the Camp

The Cloud

This is what The Cloud looks like (not soft and fluffy).  It also takes tons of electricity.

Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.1

Ever consider that you’re saving a few too many photographs (mea culpa), or maybe you don’t need all of your saved email sends from two years ago?  It’s not too late to do some spring cleaning!  (Or take five minutes each time you use the computer to delete old stuff.  I do that about once a week.)  But this isn’t just about you or me.  What is serious is the amount of heat generated by all of those servers.

Jeff Rothschild’s machines at Facebook had a problem he knew he had to solve immediately. They were about to melt.

The company had been packing a 40-by-60-foot rental space here with racks of computer servers that were needed to store and process information from members’ accounts. The electricity pouring into the computers was overheating Ethernet sockets and other crucial components.

Thinking fast, Mr. Rothschild, the company’s engineering chief, took some employees on an expedition to buy every fan they could find — “We cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area,” he said — to blast cool air at the equipment and prevent the Web site from going down. 1

The heat from data centers could be used to generate electricity, rather than use it.  Hot air rises and could spin turbines, creating mechanical energy, which generators could convert to electricity.  Here’s an idea an Aussie has to generate electricity from Arizona’s heat:

He wants to create, capture and control hot air to help power cities. He plans to build a huge solar updraft tower, 2,600 feet tall, in the Arizona desert. As the hot air moves into the tower, it would turn 32 turbines, spinning them fast enough to create mechanical energy, which generators convert to electricity. 2

Another idea is to use the heat for (duh!) heating.  A year ago the Times had an article, Turn on the Server. It’s Cold Inside, that posited the concept of using the heat from data centers to heat buildings instead of using costly cooling systems to remove the heat.

I.B.M. Research-Zurich is designing water-cooled servers whose waste heat can be carried in pipes to nearby buildings. Next year, it plans to demonstrate the technology with SuperMUC, a supercomputer under construction in Munich that will be more powerful than 110,000 PCs.

Many cities in Europe already have insulated pipes in place for centralized “district heating.” Heat generated by data centers is beginning to be distributed to neighboring homes and commercial buildings. 3

The Computer

Ok, change from high tech to low tech, or the appearance of low tech.  This is a real computer encased in wood.  Check out the web site to see the details.

Dear Diary is a computer embedded in a traditional wooden desk, a wooden keyboard laser cut into and out of the surface of the desk with a screen to match. It also has Topsecret USB Stick, which made of porcelain and silicone. 4

The Camp

Now change to even lower tech.  When I was a kid we camped every year because we couldn’t afford anything else.  Mother insisted upon a campground that had hot showers, and even though Dad showed us how to clean plates by rubbing them in the sand, she boiled water to wash dishes.  Lots of fond memories.  I got a kick out of this camping expedition, s’mores and on-site butler included in the price:

Mike and Kelsey Sheofsky spent their childhoods camping (even their first date involved a tent), so it was only natural that the husband and wife started Shelter Co., a pop-up luxury camping company, this spring. Their canvas tents — furnished with full-size beds, side tables, lamps, leather butterfly chairs and Pendleton blankets — can be pitched anywhere along the California coast, including campsites, wineries, coastal plots scouted by the pair, even in backyards. “We’re attracting a lot of people who have never been camping before,” says Kelsey, a longtime event planner. Shelter Co. will provide a camping box with s’mores, whiskey and a flashlight, as well as an on-site butler to grill burgers and build fires. From $2,000 for two nights; (415) 967-3630; shelter-co.com. 5

1http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/technology/data-centers-waste-vast-amounts-of-energy-belying-industry-image.html?pagewanted=all

2http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/02/tech/innovation/solar-tower-arizona/index.html

3http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/business/data-furnaces-could-bring-heat-to-homes.html

4http://www.amusingplanet.com/2009/07/dear-diary-computer-embedded-in-desk.html

5http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/the-place-californias-central-coast-part-four/

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2 Responses to “The Cloud, the Computer, the Camp”

  1. Jim Says:

    Practical ideas or pipe dreams – only time will tell.

    My fondest memories are vacation camping with my parents and grandparents. The family intimacy and learning of survival skills were my happiest childhood experiences.

  2. Hal Says:

    Interesting ideas on excess heat generated by computers. I wonder why no one thought of that before. And, on the other subject, some of my fondest memories were camping with the family at Lake Charlevoix in northern Michigan.

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