How Your Computer Can Save The World In Its Spare Time

How Your Computer Can Save the​ World In Its Spare Time
Those of​ us that have been watching the​ development of​ the​ computer industry for some years may remember that one of​ the​ alternatives to​ massive supercomputers developed ten or​ fifteen years ago was the​ use of​ large numbers of​ smaller computers working in​ tandem .​
The concept involves using a​ massively parallel server that can scale hundreds,​ even thousands of​ CPUs to​ function in​ cooperation while executing a​ project that requires enormous computing power .​
The server essentially allocates tasks,​ or​ portions of​ tasks to​ different low-level machines and gathers the​ resultant data for a​ completed project.
Distributed computing projects are the​ contemporary version of​ massively parallel computing .​
The advent of​ broadband technology has allowed the​ usage of​ machines that are remotely located and that need not be hard wired to​ the​ mother ship,​ so to​ speak .​
The result has been some fascinating projects that combine digital cooperation in​ social,​ cultural and medical endeavors that include any interested party who has the​ right equipment and wants to​ participate.
One of​ the​ recent projects to​ make news is​ an​ ongoing Stanford University project called Folding@Home (FAH) .​
Stanford researchers are trying to​ understand a​ folding process that occurs in​ proteins before they move on​ to​ become enzymes or​ antibodies .​
The scientists hope that understanding the​ folding process will enable them to​ understand why some proteins go awry and lead to​ afflictions such as​ Alzheimer's and cystic fibrosis.
The project requires massive repetitions of​ the​ folding process simulations and,​ therefore,​ enormous amounts of​ computing power .​
Stanford has set up a​ computer network to​ perform the​ repetitious folding and invited participation from interested parties with the​ communications bandwidth and the​ computer power to​ perform properly .​
Sony has recently announced that its latest Playstation 3 platform will have sufficient power to​ allow gamers in​ possession of​ the​ new box to​ participate in​ the​ Stanford program .​
Kudos to​ Sony for a​ great marketing ploy and to​ Stanford for recognizing an​ unusual and untapped source of​ distributed computing power.
Another of​ the​ more interesting distributed computer projects is​ being operated by SETI,​ the​ Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence .​
It is​ headquartered at​ UC Berkeley and is​ basically engaged in​ analyzing billions of​ bits of​ data provided by radio telescopes operated by the​ University and NASA .​
The massive amounts of​ data requires massive computer power,​ so the​ SETI program recruits volunteers with computers to​ connect with the​ SETI project and allow the​ SETI servers to​ put those PCs to​ use .​
When a​ volunteer is​ online,​ SETI takes control of​ the​ computer and uses it​ to​ perform analytical functions with the​ software that has been provided .​
They also warn that participating in​ SETI's distributed computer project has been known to​ become a​ serious resource hog - so limit your machine's participation,​ if​ necessary.
The software for SETI and many other distributed computer projects is​ BOINC,​ the​ Berkeley Infrastructure for Network Computing .​
This operating program basically provides the​ platform for remote participation in​ parallel computing projects,​ and many scientific efforts have put it​ to​ work .​
If you are so inclined,​ a​ few you can choose from include the​ BBC Climate Change Experiment (global warming); United Devices Cancer Research (screening molecules against cancer protein targets); and Fight Aids@Home (identifying drug characteristics that are resistant to​ mutations) .​
This last project had a​ web site in​ Chinese for its first phase,​ and completed 9 million tasks using about 1,​400 years of​ computing time on​ over 60,​000 computers.

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