How does SETI@Home work?

Isn’t it akin to a screen saver, i.e. a program that runs at the lowest priority and swaps out as soon as anything else comes up in the queue? I ask because a school district tech supervisor was lost his job over installing SETI@Home on nodes in his district. The article claims that this cost the district millions of dollars, but I am unsure how.


The real issue is that it will peg the CPU at 100% for as long as its running. Sure its low priority, but its it wasnt running then those CPUs would be at 1% or so or in a sleep/standby mode/speed step power savings mode.

If you deploy this thing to 5,000 desktops then youve gone from 5-15watts * 5000 at idle to 80-100watts * 5000 at full CPU. Thats a lot of wasted dollars, pollution, etc for a snark hunt. Its like turning on 5,000 lightbulbs all night and all day.

If the processors are running all the time (rather than just when in use), this is going to require a great deal more electricity for the machines, as well as more use of the machines will cause components to fail more quickly.

Keep in mind that the article mentions that this guy put SETI@home on 5,000 computers for 10+ years!

According to his SETI@home account, he logged 10,165,328 hours CPU time in SETI@home classic (which ended years ago) and has 579,073,936 in credit in the current system. The next highest person in SETI@home has only 154,589,815 in credits!

I haven’t used it in years now, but Seti@home can be configured to only run as a screensaver, or it can be configured to run continuously in the background. In the latter case, it will use all the processor power it can hog, and when you install it on a powerful network server, it can easily slow everything down.

This guy installed it on 5000 computers, and I’d bet it was set up to run silently in the background, slowing everything down.

The guy is a jerk for sure, but I don’t buy that it cost an extra $1 million in utilities. 5000 people left their computers on 24/7, not him.

But these are relatively modern computers we’re talking about. If they weren’t running SETI, they’d spin down their hard drives and go into low-power mode (if not sleep mode entirely) when not in use.

That’s true. The guy set himself up to be fired, for sure. I smell politics too, though. Lots of people had to know what was going on and it was allowed to continue until someone wanted to get rid of him. Still his fault though.

The aliens among us want him gone. He almost spoiled their plot.

The program does take up individual computer resources and shouldn’t be installed on computers unless the tech has the approved of the head of the institution or business. Not only does it take up individual computer resources, but it does require networking and internet bandwidth during data transfers. This could cause a big hit on the network or internet bandwidth for some places especially ten years ago.

I work for a large school board and I know that at any given instance there are thousands of computers sitting in powersaving or screensaver mode. I couldn’t imagine the bandwidth the slowdown of network traffic this would cause!

If he logged 10,165,328 hours at approx. $0.10/kWh that’s easily over $1 million dollars in utilities.
Not to mention the extra “mileage” on every computer’s parts.

My next question is how does “power save” mode work. When I was taking Operating Systems ~20 years ago, one of the lessons pointed out that the processor had to be doing something, such as spinning in a wait loop, calculating pi to a few million digits or whatever. Do “power save” modes in modern processors supersede this requirement?

I can definitely see the problem with a program on all those machines hogging a bunch of bandwidth.


I wonder if he’d have gotten into the same amount of trouble if he’d been running something useful like Folding@home instead?

Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow (BSE) / CJD, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and cancer-related syndromes vs E.T.? :smack:

CMC fnord!

Somewhat. A real OS’s idle loop uses the fewest CPU functional units possible (ie, it doesn’t multiply, it doesn’t divide, it just checks the timer), and uses much less power than a CPU that’s calculating pi. After a while, the OS can be configured to go into a different. This power saving mode stops the CPU from doing almost anything, and deactivates many components. It takes a signal from the motherboard and several seconds to recover from this.

Stopping death is a futile struggle. Discovering kindred spirits among the stars… sublime. :slight_smile:

Check your units. 10,165,328 hr x $0.10/kWh = $1,016,532.8/kW. Each computer is drawing nowhere near 1kW each, even under full CPU load. A typical workstation is probably going to be around 200 watts.

Edit: and if most of the computers don’t have power saving features on, they were going to be idling anyway. I’d guess the difference between an idling workstation and a 100% CPU load workstation is less than 50 watts.

That’s pretty amazing. What cojones! He wasn’t even part of a team. He personalized 5000 frickin’ copies of Seti with his own name.

Does anyone know the rough CPU time average of SETI@home “credits”? I couldn’t find this, so we only have CPU time for the classic version (pre-2005 or so, I believe).

so, what good are seti credits? when the aliens arrive you get money or something?

I read somewhere that the finite amount of SETI data has already been analyzed and reanalyzed several times. Is that correct?

I can’t believe the grief this guy is taking, and the way that he is being portrayed as an “alien-hunting school employee” who downloaded “software that seeks out alien life forms” and who “searched for UFOs, aliens and creatures from outer space.” They’re making the guy sound like a loon.

SETI@home is a respected program hosted by the University of California at Berkeley that analyzes radio signals from the Arecibo radio telescope. It was the one of the first distributed network programs ever developed.

The program is no more harmful than a screensaver program. How many computer cycles has this school district wasted over the years drawing Moire diagrams, bouncing a ball, or drawing pipes on people’s idle screens?

It was also not an uncommon practice. The wikipedia entry indicates that as of 2005, approximately one third of the processing of the software was performed on work or school based machines.

The current version of the program uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), which also allows users to contribute to other distributed computing projects at the same time as running SETI@home, including the cancer research that the quoted superintendent reportedly had no issue with.

No. SETI@home has had a continuous new data stream from Arecibo to analyze since it started.

If you Google for other news sources, you’ll read that the guy also stole hardware and kept it at his house, and never installed software he was supposed to, for example, firewalls. So that may be the real reason, and the “loon privately searching for aliens” angle may just be something this news source is hyping up to generate interest.