Redistributing computers among offices for heating purposes


Some time ago, I joked about the people who rearrange computers in their house during the winter in order to use them as space heaters.

Turns out this happens a lot at Microsoft. One of my friends said that one of his coworkers used a small heater in her office to keep warm. On the other hand, his office always ran warm because of all the computers in it. They hit upon a simple solution to both problems: "Now she's using a 12 core/24 thread space heater that's a lot quieter than her old one."

At one point in time, I had a large number of computers in my office, including an Itanium prototype. (You knew it was a prototype because it contained Engineering Styrofoam.) The thing generated a lot of heat. My friend across the hall, on the other hand, had a cold office. Solution: With some help from colleagues, we moved the Itanium across the hall. Two problems solved.

Comments (25)
  1. Programmerman says:

    I have this console program I run on particularly cold days at the office. It's C#, but it does the job: run the CPU at 100% until a key is pressed while minimally impacting other operation.

    for (int x = 0; x < Environment.ProcessorCount; x++) {

    var thread = new System.Threading.Thread(new System.Threading.ThreadStart(
    
        () =&gt; { while (true) { } }
    
    ));
    
    thread.Priority = System.Threading.ThreadPriority.Lowest;
    
    thread.Start();
    

    }

    Console.ReadKey();

    Environment.Exit(0);

  2. For these purposes you can run Folding@Home or similar distributed computing stuff – it does the same job but at least produces some useful work.

  3. EduardoS says:

    I heard Facebook uses datacenter air to heat up offices.

    But here we need air conditioning for the datacenter and offices…

  4. Mike says:

    I've had the opposite problem and office made uncomfortably hot by too many computers. Since I was the computer guy they had to be in my office meaning I took frequent walking breaks.

  5. Adam Rosenfield says:

    We have certain development hardware that generates a large amount of heat which some people have used to dry socks on rainy days.

  6. phi says:

    I've read something about a french company who wants to provide cloud computing from a distributed network of computers in social buildings, providing heating for free.

  7. Alexey says:

    I always thought it was a huge waste to use electricity for heating and not get any computation out of it.

  8. Adrian says:

    I think I know what Itanium you mean; the original HP workstation 2x Itanium 1 (ES) @ 733/800MHz. It was an absolute beast, weighted a ton, run hot as Hell and loud too!

    We got ours off eBay after HP refused to sell us one;) It was sad to "decomission it" – while others broke during various moves the Itanium never broke somehow. You can still probably buy some now on eBay 10+ years later – IA64 development anyone?

  9. ChuckOp says:

    I work at a company near Tampa, Florida.  It's regularly in the high 70-80's during much of the year.  The office tower we're in has dysfunctional temperature regulation however, with many offices on the top floor going into the 60's in the afternoon.  Right now, the outside air temp is 64f, but the A/C has been running continuously, keeping my office at a frigid 68f and dropping.  I do have some spare machines here that I should fire up…

  10. Sam Blake says:

    For a while, my team had two SDETs (and probably five or six test machines) in a single office, but that office also contained the thermostat which controlled the temperature for a block of twelve or so offices, including mine.  So their office was a perfectly reasonable 70-some degrees, but every other office in that block was ten degrees cooler.

  11. Sam Blake says:

    Also, I object to this post being tagged as "Non-Computer" when it is clearly about computers.

    [The "Non-Computer" tag is poorly-named. It's a tag for "Things that non-technical people would understand." -Raymond]
  12. JT says:

    I cannot believe that I am first to mention the "Microsoft Heating Plant", a.k.a the DEC-20 mainframe at the Northup Microsoft building around 30 years ago. I always assumed the machine's exhaust heat really was connected to the building furnace ducts somehow.

  13. Evan says:

    @Sam Blake: "For a while, my team had two SDETs (and probably five or six test machines) in a single office, but that office also contained the thermostat which controlled the temperature for a block of twelve or so offices, including mine.  So their office was a perfectly reasonable 70-some degrees, but every other office in that block was ten degrees cooler."

    I had a similar experience when I was doing an internship at $SOFTWARE_COMPANY. I'm not sure what the cause was, but in the middle of summer (OK, it was in New York, but it was still 80s outside or something) and we were showing up to work in long pants and long sleeves and still freezing.

  14. Josh says:

    @Evan: Better than my NYC office experience. We had steam heat (single setting for the whole building, which was configured to keep the retail store on the bottom floor warm, even when it left its doors open mid-winter), with per-floor AC to counteract the effects of any excess heat. The AC broke repeatedly. I kept shorts at the office in mid-winter, because every time the AC broke, my floor would rise to 80 or 90 degrees, even in January/February.

  15. Drak says:

    90 degrees? That's near boiling point!

    Oh wait.. Fahrenheit… Right… No need to specify because the whole world uses that.

  16. Ahvivaimustus says:

    @Drak:

    90 degrees C is a mighty reasonable sauna temperature (although when enough stupidity is applied, temperatures of 110+ aren't rare) so you get a free sauna @ work, a privilege that many others pay serious money for :)

  17. 640k says:

    Furmark helps a lot in the winter, if you have a bunch of gfxcards.

  18. smf says:

    Does anyone know what the Engineering Styrofoam in the Itanium prototype was for?

  19. GregM says:

    smf, that's answered on the linked page.

  20. Rick C says:

    @Drak, given the stated context of New York City, Fahrenheit is a reasonable assumption.

  21. 640k says:

    Using windows to keep the office warm.

  22. Ex-DonH says:

    A few years back I read an article about a combined computing center and greenhouse.  Ah, here it is: newsinfo.nd.edu/…/9422-greenhouses-and-ldquogreenrdquo-computing

  23. Horst Kiehl says:

    Obligatory xkcd reference: http://xkcd.com/1172/ (note the image alt text)

  24. steveg says:

    I did some work in the Solomon Islands way back when (1997ish) and the server room was overheating. The "solution" was to install additional aircon units. Me and another guy cleaned the filters in the meantime. Problem solved. Sort of. With the additional aircon, the segue from beautiful tropical weather to super-cold server room was horrific.

  25. Adrian says:

    As far as I remember the "Engineering Styrofoam" in the HP Itanium prototype was to guide the air internally to specific paths; so the computer was not empty inside.

    You had to put them back in the right order like a puzzle. I think the computer would complain if you left them out. It was quite an impressive design IMHO.

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