Steampunk was a genre of SF - or speculative fiction, as some preferred to call it - back in the 1980s and 90s which asked questions such as what would the world be like if technologies developing differently and sooner, for example if computing had become dominated by Babbage engines instead of transistors?

There's a rather good essay on the topic on Wikipedia, by the way - for all its critics, there are many areas that Wikipedia covers exceedingly well.

Now though, steampunk's vision of steam-powered computing is becoming a reality, albeit for computers built with silicon chips. Under pressure to be - or as the more cynical might suggest, to appear - green and environmentally conscious, non-fossil fuels are getting a lot of attention, and now someone has signed up to run a data centre on them.

The company concerned is Rackspace Managed Hosting, which is building a new data centre in Slough, and has signed up a local provider, Slough Heat and Power, to provide it with 15MVA of electricity generated from biomass. SH&P has converted its coal-fired power station to run on wood chips and fibre, and as well as electricity, it boosts its energy efficiency by supplying the locals with hot water and steam too.

My hackles rise when I hear the words "environmentally friendly" - because most times, what the speaker really means is "less environmentally damaging" - but in this case I can't help smiling slightly.

Yes, I know that electricity generation, however it's fuelled, generally involves a steam turbine somewhere in the process. And yes, I know that the new data centre is still going to be pumping a stack of heat out into the environment.

But... steam-powered websites, eh? Jules Verne and HG Wells should be proud.