The German company Cloud&Heat is reimagining the data center, not as a large monolith, but as something that can be distributed as easily as the workloads are distributed on the servers contained in a traditional data center. Utilizing the relatively ubiquitous high-speed internet infrastructure in Germany, potential users can purchase a cloud server cabinet from Cloud&Heat for €12,000 (about $15,000 USD), and have it installed in the user's private residence — or, theoretically, a commercial building. This price is essentially in line with the cost of a traditional heating system.
The cabinet is fireproof and locked, so the user cannot access the hardware inside. The heat generated from the enclosed computers is then transferred to a buffer tank, and is usable to heat water and, when used in conjunction with an air handling system, provides warm air inside the building. The Cloud&Heat system design allows for workloads to be concentrated to specific regions as the current weather warrants — on a given day, if the outside temperature is colder in Bonn than it is in Stuttgart, for example, higher workloads would be allocated to systems in Bonn to generate the needed heat. In the summer, the unneeded heat can be dispersed outside of the building via a bypass.
Cloud&Heat covers the costs of upkeep for the computer hardware inside the cabinet, servicing the equipment once or twice a year with prior notice given to the premise's owner, and replacing the equipment every three years. The corporation pays for the costs of electricity and internet connectivity, and assumes liability for any damage.
The ecological benefits of the Cloud&Heat model extend beyond providing heat for users. Because of the heat generated from most servers, large industrial air conditioning units are required to keep the facilities and equipment cool. The heat harvesting design of Cloud&Heat, as well as the decentralized, less dense arrangement of computing resources, negates the need for such costly and aggressive cooling.
Data security in the cloud continuum
The data uploaded to Cloud&Heat systems are encrypted. Additionally, as all server cabinets are located in Germany, with Cloud&Heat being a German company, a scenario such as the one Microsoft currently faces in American courts over the contents of email hosted in Ireland is not a potential issue for Cloud&Heat, or its cloud clients. The ongoing saga of that case, combined with disclosures regarding data security and the monitoring of communications, has become an object of consternation for businesses looking to protect their communications and property.
To that end, a potential scenario in which police could enter the premises of a data center and seize equipment — as was the case on raids against free speech oriented Swedish data center operator PRQ in 2006 and 2012 — become far more complex without an actual data center to raid.
Inquiries to Cloud&Heat regarding the security of data and the current number of deployed systems were not returned in time for publication of this article.
What's your position?
Is the ecological benefit to a distributed model of cloud computing offered by Cloud&Heat worth the nominal additional price? Do you feel more secure storing data away from Google and Amazon, or less secure storing it in someone's house? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.