Folding@Home: Whitepages Donates Computer Power

At the end of our 2017 fiscal year, our Engineering and Infrastructure teams successfully completed a massive data migration — three months ahead of schedule! More details to come in a future post, but for now, we’re highlighting how Whitepages took all that work and donated it to a good cause. Below is a blog from Jeff, a Senior Software Engineer, on how we use idle computer servers to save lives with folding@home.


I’d like to share a side effect of this migration that I think was pretty awesome, but not very well circulated.

As we migrated services from the data center to AWS this year, the Operations team raised the question: “What do we do with the increasing number of idle servers in our data center?” I wasn’t there for this conversation, but I imagine it went something like this:

OPS: “So we have all these idle servers, what should we do with them?”

SOMEONE: “Uh… mine bitcoin?”

ACCOUNTING: “I’m not figuring out the taxes for that.”

OPS: “These servers have lots of CPUs, but all the good bitcoin mining is on graphics cards these days so that wouldn’t have worked very well anyway. Other ideas?”

SOFTWARE ENGINEER MANAGER MIKE: “Uh… cure cancer?”

OPS: “YES. THAT.”

If you’re not familiar, the folding@home project is a distributed computing project developed by Stanford to run simulations on how human proteins behave. This research goes to trying to find cures for diseases like Cancer or Alzheimer’s. These kinds of simulations require a ton of computing horsepower, and folding@home farms this work out to volunteer computers so people can donate time their computer would have otherwise been idle to help with this research.

There are several projects in this class of donating computer time to big problems if you’re interested, but folding@home is one of the oldest.

So that’s what we’ve been doing.

As we migrated services to AWS and freed up servers in the data center, we immediately put those servers back to work donating CPU time to the folding@home project. It’s personally been really fun to put some work into migrating some service, and watch as the Whitepages team ranking goes up as a result. For the last few months, we’ve been consistently in the top 20 teams worldwide in terms of donated computer power, even beating out teams with names you might recognize like “Reddit” and “Google”.

Among all the move-the-needle work we’ve been doing, I think it’s been a little under the radar, so I wanted to make sure we shared the good news.

 -Jeff W.

Here is a graph showing November’s spike in activity once we officially migrated data servers:

 


As of today, Whitepages has achieved the following two milestones:

(Note: “points” are folding@home’s attempt to normalize the fact that some Work Units are harder than others. We are currently ranked #58 out over a million teams!)

We are so proud to continue using our Data For Good and streamlining our systems to better serve our customers. Thank you to our Ops/Infrastructure and Engineering Teams for their efforts!

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by Katie Krueger

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