The next time you stay in a hotel, that set-top box you’re not using to watch TV could be moonlighting as a … data center.

LeoNovus has struck a deal with hotel management and real estate firm 360 Vox that will turn hotels into virtual data centers. That might sound crazy, but LeoNovus is taking a creative, if zany, approach to solving the problem of modern society’s insatiable demand for web-connected computing power.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based LeoNovus has a plan to distribute free set-top boxes for hotel rooms. Normally, the hotels have to pay for these boxes that connect to the TV to movies and games. But now the hotels can get them for free and even make money from them. In exchange, the hotels let LeoNovus use the unused computer power inside these boxes. LeoNovus marshals these resources into what it calls a “distributed data center.” It then leases these so-calls distributed data centers to other companies that need computing power.

“LeoNovus’s unique technology allows us to take what is currently considered a cost center and move it into a profit center, increasing the overall asset value of the hotel,” said Robin Conners,” the president and CEO of 360 Vox. “We are delighted to have partnered with LeoNovus to scale this worldwide.”

360 Vox is a global real estate company with hospitality services. It manages hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms around the world.

LeoNovus has created set-top boxes with an attractive user interface for hotel guests. The boxes will provide in-room information and entertainment. People can use it to access the Internet, e-mail, Facebook, and other local happenings. The companies are targeting hotels in both Canada and the U.S. to start, but they declined to name any particular hotel chains at the moment.

LeoNovus user interface for hotel set-top boxes.

Above: LeoNovus user interface for hotel set-top boxes.

Image Credit: LeoNovus

As announced earlier this year, LeoNovus already has a deal with a small town in Canada, Stratford, where it’s testing this technology. The town’s 32,000 residents are getting free Internet access and a free set-top box from the town.

LeoNovus also has a deal to provide data center services, such as data security and backup, with Trimark, a $500 million company that provides measurement and communications for electric and solar power industries.

Hotels are an attractive partner for LeoNovus because they are densely packed with rooms and set-top boxes. They also have good Internet bandwidth going into the hotel and into the rooms. (Some hotels have crappy WiFi service, but that’s usually because they take the good bandwidth and distribute it to too many rooms; and LeoNovus can focus on hotels that do the internet connection the right way). That makes it easier for LeoNovus to gather a considerable amount of computing power in a concentrated location, said LeoNovus chief exec Gordon Campbell in an interview with VentureBeat.

“It is much easier for us to do hotels than do residential installations because every room is exactly the same and it looks a lot more like a data center than a city does,” said Campbell. “This is now a money-earning entity for the hotel and they love that.”

Campbell said that LeoNovus, and its related research company Sviral, have figured out how to take “dark cores,” or unused central processing units (CPUs), and assign tasks for them to handle in a massively parallel program (one that does a lot of things at once). The idea has been around for years, but LeoNovus said in March that it and its sister company Sviral have cracked the code on how to do it. LeoNovus promises fast, secure, and cost-effective compute and storage services for enterprises.

Campbell said that this distributed data center is more efficient, greener, and lower cost than regular data centers. While storms or other localized disasters can knock out traditional data centers, LeoNovus said it has much better overall protection because its processors are spread out over much larger areas. And since those processors aren’t concentrated in one place, it doesn’t require a ton of air conditioning and electric power in a single spot. That helps reduce data center costs dramatically.

Hotels have a lot of set-tops. But hotel chains that are spread out will be distributed for better data redundancy, Campbell said. It encrypts and redundantly spreads the data across the LeoNovus network so that the theft of a single set-top box won’t mean that the thief is stealing useful data, Campbell said.

Campbell is the founder of such Silicon Valley companies as QuickSilver Technologies and Chips and Technologies. He told us in March that distributed data center services are just one application of the new technology.

“We were developing the box to do the web interface to the TV and did that with residences in Stratford,” Campbell said. “Those are dispersed. We think this is how we can put data centers right where the people are.”

The first hotel will have about 200 rooms. But over the next year, Campbell hopes to get the system working in 5,000 to 10,000 hotel rooms.