[Beowulf] Servers Too Hot? Intel Recommends a Luxurious Oil Bath

Peter St. John peter.st.john at gmail.com
Tue Sep 4 17:35:20 PDT 2012

Wiki tells me that the flash point of Transformer Oil (a type of mineral
oil) is 140 C; does that sound safe in a server room? I'm a worse chemist
than I am a physicist so I can't tell if you're serious about OSHA not
liking mineral oil in server rooms (I'm **pretty** sure you're not serious
about frying chicken in the cpu box :-)
I just don't feel that power-gamers should be able to get away with
anything unavailable to HPC.

On Tue, Sep 4, 2012 at 9:16 AM, Robert G. Brown <rgb at phy.duke.edu> wrote:

> On Mon, 3 Sep 2012, Lux, Jim (337C) wrote:
> > I'll bet they have to change it more often than that.  This isnt
> something
> > like a pole transformer.
> Absolutely. Think of what you can do with a big vat of hot oil handy in
> the workspace.  Buffalo Wings.  French Fries.  Chicken.  Fish.  The
> reason nobody does this is because OSHA prohibits it -- it is a huge
> health hazard.  Not even Jolt Cola can keep you thin in a sedentary
> profession with your own personal deep frier as close as your server
> room.  Although you do have to change the oil pretty often, as otherwise
> shrimp tails and bits of overcooked tempura crust gunk up the memory and
> CPU.  Systems people were dying like pudgy little flies of advanced
> cardiovascular disease before the practice of using computers to heat
> deep fat was banned.
> On a more serious note, one wonders why nobody has tried helium instead.
> No, silly, not liquid helium, helium gas.  The reason they fill windows
> with argon is that it has around 2/3 the thermal conductivity of air,
> and hence is a better insulator.  This, in turn, is because it is more
> massive -- conductivity is tightly tied to mass and hence the speed of
> the molecules when they have kT sorts of energies.
> Helium, OTOH, has six times the thermal conductivity of air, and is
> relatively inexpensive.  The biggest downside I can think of is that it
> requires a pretty good seal and thick walls to keep the slippery little
> atoms from sliding right through to the outside, and of course the fact
> that systems techs would always be hitting up the helium tanks so that
> they could talk like Donald Duck.  And you'd still have to refrigerate
> the outside of the systems units.  But all of these things are still
> orders of magnitude easier than with oil, and even things like cooling
> fans work fine in Helium.  Maybe there are other problems -- lower heat
> capacity to match its higher conductivity -- but it seems like it is
> worth an experiment or two...
>     rgb
> Robert G. Brown                        http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
> Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
> Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
> Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu
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