PCs do thousands of years of work

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Mon Feb 21 10:09:44 PST 2005



Thursday, 17 February, 2005, 08:16 GMT

 PCs do thousands of years of work
By Jo Twist
 BBC News science and technology reporter

 A global network of computer users has clocked up more than 4,000 years'
worth of computer calculations in under three months as part of a huge grid

Since November, thousands have joined the World Community Grid (WCG) which
uses idle computer time to help solve serious health and social problems.

 Over 4,000 "teams" have been running a simple program which processes
proteins for the Institute of Systems Biology.

 The Seattle-based institute is working out the role of proteins in bodies.

 The calculations completed so far by the thousands of ordinary desktop
computers mean that the WCG has done 22% of the total analysis needed for
the institute's Human Proteome Folding Project.

 "It makes me feel great because it is easy to sit back and let it run,"
Graham Hood, a community administrator for the 63-member My Online Team,
told the BBC News website.

 "I can't think of a better way to put spare time into good use," added the
watchmaker based in Birmingham.

 By the time the project ends it is predicted that more than 20,000 years
of computing will have been done.

 Technical trouble-shooter

As well as being a keen "protein cruncher", Mr Hood has also filled the
role of technical trouble-shooter for those in the WCG community who fear
viruses - not the biological kind.

 Participants only need to know how to install the software - no other
expertise is required to be part of the effort.

 But that means some who take part may not necessarily be so savvy about
technology and computer security either, which could cause problems.

 The software required to take part in the WCG is small, simple, and does
its calculations without users realising it.

 "If you took 10,000 people and said it is costing you this amount a week
to run your computer, would you prepared to donate that money to charity or
put this program on the computer and it costs you nothing?"
 Graham Hood, My Online Team

 Small, encrypted files of protein data are automatically downloaded via a
secure server when users connect to the net.

 With the current concern over spyware and viruses, WCG members have needed
to ensure they remain secure online, but configure their systems to let the
right kind of encrypted data in and out.

 Spyware are programs that surreptitiously install themselves on computers
to gather information about users. They can slow computer processors and
clog systems.

 "If you have a PC at home, it is more simple," said Mr Hood.

 "But if you are in corporation and you want to put 40 computers on the
grid, due to the fact that networks have to be so secure, firewalls will
block information getting back to the grid.

 "People have to get past the firewall in a safe manner."

 On the community's forums, advice is given out readily.

 The project is also a way of contributing to a good cause that avoids scam
"charity e-mail" phishing attempts - e-mails which pretend to be from
legitimate charities.

 This kind of scam recently hit tsunami relief fund-raising efforts.

 "If you took 10,000 people and said it is costing you this amount a week
to run your computer, would you prepared to donate that money to charity or
put this program on the computer and it costs you nothing?"

 Of course, a resource like cash is always a welcome relief for charities
too, but at least computers which get more powerful year on year can do
something useful, too.

 Premier processing league

The teams and individuals also earn points for the processing and
calculations each has done.

 Those with the most points, worked out and balanced against the
specification of the computer and net connections speeds, are ranked in a

 The "Premiership" tends to comprise those who might have more than one
processor linked up to the WCG.

 "One person from Hollywood has a render farm with 30 processors in it. So
he is doing in one day what I have done in three months," explained Mr Hood.

But Mr Hood and his team have crawled steadily up the rankings to be the
13th most prolific team, contributing more than 300 computers to the

 Earning processing points and having rankings gives people something to
aim for, aside from the greater humanitarian goals, according to Mr Hood.

 Each protein has to be analysed five separate times to be sure of results.

 The hope is that a better understanding of the roles certain proteins have
will lead to the development of cures or better treatments for diseases
like cancer, HIV/Aids, and malaria.

 Protein analyses can take years to complete on powerful supercomputers alone.

 A global network of desktop computing power doing the analysing means that
time can be reduced to a matter of months.

 The WCG project, backed by IBM, is similar to others, like the successful
Seti at home run by the Search for Extra Terrestrial Life project which
examined radio signals for signs of alien communication.

 Another, the Smallpox Research Grid, linked together more than two million
volunteers from 226 countries to speed-up analysis of 35 million drug
molecules in the search for a treatment.

 The subjects of study for the WCG teams are chosen by an international
advisory board of experts specialising in health sciences and technology.

 The board evaluates proposals from leading research, public, and
not-for-profit organisations, and aims to be involved in up to six projects
a year.

 E-mail this to a friend
 Related to this story:
 Computer grid to help the world   (20 Nov 04 |   Technology  )
 Sun offers processing by the hour   (02 Feb 05 |   Technology  )
 ET fails to 'phone home'   (28 Mar 03 |   Science/Nature  )
 Computing power aids alien hunters   (19 Aug 02 |   Technology  )

World Community Grid
Download WCG software
Seti at home
Grid forum
Human Proteome Folding Project
Institute of Systems Biology
My Online Team
Folding at Home
 The BBC is not resp
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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