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Distributed Computing

Distributed computing has taken off over the years, to the point now where one project, Folding@home, has the most powerful computing resources available to it in all of computing history. Users can run clients of various projects, whichever suits their fancy, and donate their spare computing time towards these projects. Those who love science may contribute towards SETI or other cosmological searches. For humanity, protein folding, Malaria control, AIDS research and other projects can hope to cure diseases or provide more efficient treatments. Who knows, one day it may save your own life? There are also mathematics challenges, as well as simulations for climate prediction and quantum computing.

Distibuted computing (DC for short) has always run on the CPU of a computer, but lately new stars are rising, the GPU that is found in modern graphics cards as well as Sony’s Playstation 3.

At this stage, only a few projects are making use of the GPU, while 2 are making use of the PS3. Not every type of project is suited towards GPU use, but for those who are, they are seeing some amazing processing power come into play. The reason for this is that graphics cards are designed to handle demanding games, with many computations done in parallel. This had lead to the creation of some really powerful cards, to which some say are more powerful than a high end CPU. This isn’t wholly correct, as the CPU can still do a wider variety of tasks than what a GPU can do. However, what they do is complement each other nicely.

I started using the BOINC client last year so that I could run multiple projects on my computer. Here is a screenshot of the Advanced view of the program: (click the picture for a higer resolution version)








I’m currently taking part in the World Community Grid, as well as Einstein@Home as per the above shot, but I’m also involved in Seti@home and Rosetta@home. Some people have argued that some of the projects are pointless, such as SETI and that the resources should be used for more productive purposes. Well, those projects have sprung up and are doing well. However, SETI is still ahead of them all (except for Folding@home), proving it’s popularity.

I run my projects when my computer is idle or doing small tasks like writing this blog. I don’t run my computer 24/7, so I take longer to finish the work units in that sense. Others have computer “farms” that they use, often consisting of older low powered computers. Others run it at their place of work, with or without company permission. In most cases it is harmless, but in some places it’s a violation of policy.

In closing, I urge everybody to get involved, and take part in at least one project to which you think your spare computing time is worthwhile. The more we do, the better chance we have of a brighter future.

  1. February 2, 2009 at 23:21

    I would recommend to you and those who want an easy way to get started and manage their projects to check out GridRepublic. GridRepublic is a nonprofit working in collaboration with BOINC to make it easy to discover projects, join, and manage projects and computers using BOINC. They are working to bring BOINC to the mainstream. Check them out.

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