Since November of 1999 I’ve been participating in grid compute projects over the Internet. The grand daddy of these of course is the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) out of Berkeley University and where the core software currently used to enable large scale grid computing over the Internet (BOINC – or Berkeley open Infrastructure for Network Computing) was developed.
Today there are just over 1,692,000 people or teams of people participating via the Internet world wide in public BOINC enabled projects and much has changed in the past 10 years – when I started doing this, SETI was really the only game in town – now there are many universities and research organisations using this technology to do what computers do best – sift through large quantities of raw data looking for patterns and similarities without ever getting bored ! One of the newer efforts is sponsored by IBM who funded the creation of the World Community Grid (WCG) which takes on projects based mainly in the medical research area. When I was still with Shell, we were approached by IBM about possibly participating as a company and partner in the World Community Grid effort and to me it seemed like a great idea. As is true of all large companies, at any given time there can be several thousand of the 100,000 plus laptop and desktop computers in Shell sitting idle for short periods and just running their screen savers, so it seemed to me a no-brainer that this idle capacity could have been put to good use for exploring cures for cancer, AIDS, muscular dystrophy etc. Sadly Shell management just couldn’t get their heads past the ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality so nothing happened, but I digress.
I have always built my own computers to participate in these grid computing projects, and yesterday marked a real milestone as I put into service my first AMD powered quad-core box ! I’ve had a soft spot for AMD ever since my first heady experience with their (at the time) screamingly fast 40 MHz 386DX with which I upgraded my Packard Bell 12 MHz 286 back in the early 1990’s. I normally dedicate five boxes to grid computing work, and just rebuild them with new components when they eventually fail, which happens about every 18 months. For my latest round of upgrades, I picked up a couple of ASUS motherboards, AMD quad core processors and some RAM from a local outfit here in Calgary, Memory Express, that has a good selection of components as well as reasonable pricing.
There is just something nerdishly fascinating about watching the Ubuntu system monitor graphs showing all four CPU’s ramping up for the first time to 100% utilisation as they get busy with more World Community Grid number crunching ! Naturally after the first successful boot I did the Dilbert Engineer’s Victory Dance as the first new quad-core equipped box in my collection of homebuilt specials came on-line and started working to find potential cancer cures, as well as possible cures for other world problems related to clean energy or food production. Its all for a very good cause, and as SWMBO’d can confirm, such occasions are just about the only times I ever do dance ! For a full list of the projects I’ve been contributing to, you can check here which also contains a link you can select if you want to join my team and do some good for the world whenever your own screen saver kicks in.
And of course, I am still contributing CPU cycles to SETI as well ………..