With SETI opening up its data to “citizen scientists” last Wednesday, distributed computing is getting another great public project. These projects utilize idle computer cycles on individual systems provided by volunteers to solve computational problems, creating a supercomputer level of power from a bank of idle home computers. Some of these programs run as screensavers while you’re away. Others run in the background only when your computer is inactive, disabling themselves when you need that processing power for your super-important tasks like playing The Sims 3 or watching cats ride roombas.
Along with the now-public SETI program, here are 6 cool distributed computing projects from various fields:
Folding @ home
No list like this would be complete without Folding@Home, Stanford’s program studying diseases related to protein misfolding. Folding@home passed the 4 petaFLOPS milestone first, and now sustains almost 5 PFLOPS on a regular basis. If you’re having trouble visualizing a petaFLOP, view this totally-accurate graph or just imagine opening half of your porn files at once. Pretty powerful, right? You can choose how much of your CPU folding@home can use, and you can even hook a GPU or a PS3 array to it.
SETI @ home
SETI’s now-public program searches the sky for signs of extraterrestrial life. Before it went public, it was processing less than one PFLOP. Computers that run the program crunch data coming from radio telescopes. If you find any aliens, tell their mother I said hi.
This is one of a few programs that has given away cash prizes, but don’t count on getting one (I already called dibs). GIMPS is the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. In its 13-year history, it’s found 13 of the 47 Mersenne primes known to man. Here’s a helpful hint: when looking for a screencap of this program, don’t go to google image search and simply type in the word “Gimps”. I’m pretty f’n far from okay.
This program seeks to predict the Earth’s climate up to 2080 and verify the accuracy of climate models. I just looked at the giant snowbank outside my house and asked this program about its snow predictions for next winter. It told me to buy a bigger shovel, and then beat myself to death just get it over with.
MilkyWay @ home
This program handles just over 1 TFLOP to crunch data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Its aim is to create an accurate 3D model of the Milky Way galaxy. I once made an accurate 3D model of the solar system, but then I dropped it in a puddle and got a B-. I still hate water to this day.
Progress Thru Processors
Intel created this program to be downloaded from Facebook. Users can select one or more projects to participate in. It’s still in beta, but currently users can donate computer cycles to Climateprediction.net (see above), Rosetta@home (another protein folding application similar to Folding@home), and/or Africa@home (finding strategies to combat malaria). I can save Africa@home a lot of time and tell them the best way to combat malaria. Freakin’ laserbeams.
In conclusion, distributed computing is awesome.
Oh, yeah, and I guess if you want to find other programs like this, you can check out the exhaustive lists at distributedcomputing, Volunteer @ Home, and Wikipedia. The six projects above are user-friendly, self-explanatory apps, as long as you only download one program. Running more than one on the same computer can be tricky. If you’re a more-advanced computer user, you can download Berkeley’s BIONC software which allows you to run multiple distributed computing programs simultaneously. BIONC works with Windows, Linux, and Mac. If you are going to run more than one project, using BIONC along with an account manager like GridRepublic or BAM! makes it all easier to manage. To see which programs are compatible with BIONC, check out the official website or Hyper.net. Of the projects listed above, Seti @ home, Rosetta @ home, MilkyWay @ home, and Climateprediction are all compatible with BIONC on most operating systems.