In Mike Shuey’s line of work, turning off a computer means losing up to 3 million processing hours—a few weeks of work, gone in an instant.
Until Shuey and his team of supercomputing experts at Purdue University found a way to cool down the massive machines when they overheated during the blazing summer months, there were only two options: “You turn on a few fans and hope for the best, or you turn off [the supercomputers] and wait until the temperature stabilizes,” he said.
Shutting down the machines would save the university’s expensive computers—but it could cost researchers weeks or months of work.
Some research conducted with Purdue’s supercomputers requires several months of continuous operation, and pulling the plug would force researchers and scientists to start from square one.
“They have to start all over again where they began weeks or months ago,” said Shuey, Purdue University’s high-performance computer systems manager for 10 years.
But computer code written by Patrick Finnegan, a Unix systems administrator at the university, has allowed Purdue IT officials to slow down the supercomputers when they reach about 85 degrees Fahrenheit by about 30 percent—meaning researchers wouldn’t have to start from scratch after a complete shutdown.