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Dutch Homes Get Free Heating If They Agree To Host A Computer Server

Startups in France and Germany are also pursuing the smart idea, which saves money for all involved.

There’s a new way for homeowners to save money on their heating bills: by turning their living rooms into data centers.

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Startups in Holland, France, and Germany are reimagining the conventional data center model, placing servers inside people’s homes instead of out-the-way data farms. In the process, they hope to heat homes from excess computer heat, while lowering costs for their clients.

“It’s greener, more socially responsible because you’re helping a household make ends meet, and you save money,” says Boaz Leupe, CEO of a Dutch company called Nerdalize.

Nerdalize recently announced a trial with Eneco, Holland’s second biggest utility, whereby five homes will install server units disguised as radiators. In return, owners are reimbursed for the electricity the servers use and get to enjoy the excess heat from the computers–which is considerable.

Leupe says 60% of the cost of conventional data farms comes from buying up and putting in the required building. Nerdalize, he says, can reduce costs for its clients by about 50% by hosting in people’s homes instead. Eneco, which has a minority stake in the startup, says households can save about $440 a year on their heating bills.

Leupe insists there are no privacy or security concerns about storing data in people’s homes. One, the company knows if someone is tampering with its box. Two, the data is encrypted. And three, it’s distributed–anyone wanting to hack the network would have to know which households are carrying out work they’re interested in.

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“[With a conventional data center] you’re maybe a check and a good bottle of wine away from bribing a data center manager and gaining access to all those servers,” he says. “But we’re spread out over a lot of locations, so it becomes hard to find out who’s running what.”

Nerdalize has a similar idea to Qarnot, in France, and Cloud & Heat, in Germany. Qarnot has installed more than 350 radiator-servers already and has clients including banking giant BNP Paribas.

Of course, people aren’t interesting in warming their homes at all times of the year and companies don’t always need data centers. To get round the first problem, Nerdalize’s unit can be switched around in summer, so the heat goes outside rather than inside. To get around the second, the unit will always perform some form of work to keep going, even if it’s free to the client or just dummy calculations.

“I’m not saying we’ll entirely replace the data center, but Eneco has 2 million customers so there’s a lot of market potential in front of us,” Leupe says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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