Location: Paris, France
Few trends in technology are as prevalent today as consigning data to the so-called “cloud.” Though the word “cloud” conjures up images of magical, ethereal storage in the sky, cloud computing happens in very real, very earthbound data centers. These data centers also happen to be energy hogs, with some individual buildings sucking up as much electricity as a small town. Up to 94% of this energy is not even used on computations, but is only necessary only to keep the system up and running in case of unexpected activity. With such wasteful practices, it’s almost unsurprising that, according to the New York Times, 2% of the United States energy was consumed by data centers in 2010.
Another issue with data centers is that they tend to get unbelievably hot as they run, creating a need for massive, energy-intensive cooling systems to prevent meltdowns. Meanwhile, buildings across the world rely on fossil fuels for heating. Where most people would see two unrelated drains on resources, Paul Benoit and Qarnot Computing see the potential for a solution to both problems. Qarnot performs a feat of computational magic with a combination of innovative hardware and software. The hardware consists of the Q.rad computer, which is basically a small CPU connected through the Internet to other Q.rad computers. However, these computers aren’t just for computing: they double as heating units. The ambient heat that proves so troublesome in big data centers finds purpose in the Q.rad unit as it radiates out with enough power to heat a 15 square meter room. Q.rad heaters are distributed free of charge by Qarnot to willing host buildings, which only need to have Internet access and electricity. Not only that, Qarnot keeps track of the amount of electricity the Q.rad consumes and will reimburse host buildings for electricity. How, then, does Qarnot make money? Their real business is not in providing heating, but in selling access to high-power cloud computing for tasks such as rendering and running complex calculations. That’s where the Q.ware software comes in: Q.ware distributes tasks between the network of Q.rad computers as if the CPUs were in a single data center, and even adjusts payload to individual Q.rad computers based on how much heat the host building needs. Because they avoid many of the costs of traditional data centers, they can provide high-powered computing for a quarter of the price of similar services. Qarnot’s computing is also more secure, reliable, and flexible than competitors’ because the computers are diversified, or, as Qarnot calls it, “democratized.”
Qarnot Computing is currently working on partnerships with Décrypthon of the French Association of Myopathies and BOINC at University of California, Berkeley. By providing services for large, long-term projects like these, Qarnot can maintain a baseline computing load that will ensure heating is available at all times for host buildings. This will also ensure their services are up and running for the small-to-medium businesses that will serve as their main paying clientele. Qarnot Computing’s creative and ingenious business model has the potential to change the world of high-powered computing, and can heat the world at the same time. And it’s all from looking at two problems and instead seeing a solution.
Environmental impact: Energy recycling and avoided use of fossil fuels, including avoided emission of GHGs and harmful substances
Measurement: Qarnot Computing
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