Running a data center means finding innovative ways to manage the heat from the servers. And French startup Qarnot standardizes its process of reusing lethal heat and turning it into an asset.
While the startup has been around for a while, Qarnot now wants to take it to the next level. It has raised a funding round of €12.5 million ($13.3 million at the current exchange rate). It has also negotiated a €22.5 million ($24 million) line of credit to fund its future projects.
Société Générale Ventures, ADEME Investissement, Demeter, la Banque des Territoires and Colam Impact participate in today’s funding round.
Qarnot started with electric heaters for construction companies looking for heaters for their new buildings. The company placed servers in those heaters so that CPUs and other components would generate heat. The rest of the heating would act as a passive cooling system and warm residential and office buildings.
On the other hand, companies like BNP Paribas, Société Générale and 3D animation studio Illumination rent those servers for their own needs. This is an innovative way to build decentralized data centers.
“Since we launched Qarnot 12 years ago, our goal has been to valorize lethal heat from computers. Today it is a hot topic and much talked about,” co-founder and CEO Paul Benoit told me.
But the main problem with this system is that you don’t need a heater all year round. Qarnot has found a way to counter this seasonal effect by developing a new product — scalable boiler systems.
These modules contain up to 12 standard form factor servers based on Open Compute Project server designs with AMD Epyc and Intel Xeon CPUs. Each module is then connected to the water system so that cold water enters the module and is converted to hot water. Up to 95% of the waste heat from computers is converted into hot water.
I asked about the seasonality of central heating boilers. And it turns out that heating networks work all year round. For example, they produce hot water, which is always needed.
“We want to tackle the baseload. We will run all year round and the heating network will depend on a free source,” said Benoit. Buildings or neighborhoods will still use electricity or natural gas directly for those cold winter nights.
Qarnot can provide multiple modules and run them in parallel. It generates more hot water and increases the overall computing power of the Qarnot platform.
“The idea is that we should be able to use data centers in locations where people use heat. It’s a completely different approach than traditional data centers,” says Benoit.
Clients include social landlords, project developers, municipalities, swimming pools and heat network operators. Qarnot has already rolled out a pilot data center in Finland with 100 kW of computing power. It is a small data center, but the company is already looking at other locations with 500 kW to several MW of computing capacity.
“With our system you don’t need a cooling system and we can sell the heat generated by our servers. In the data center industry, if you have servers that need 1kW, they also need up to 500W of air conditioning,” says Benoit.
And this is the key to understanding Qarnot’s appeal. From a business point of view, Qarnot uses electricity in two different ways. It runs computers and it sells heat, which is great for the bottom line. From an environmental point of view, Qarnot significantly improves the carbon footprint of data centers.
“We think the future looks like a plethora of medium-sized data centers. Edge computing is slowly taking off. Today, we don’t really know what it will look like, but we know that there are operators looking for hundreds of data centers with a few kilowatts of capacity,” said Benoit.
Qarnot could revolutionize the data center industry. If the company becomes hugely successful, there would be no reason to build special buildings to house hundreds of thousands of computers.