The next time you step away from your desk for a quick latte at your local coffee bar, your computer can get to work...doing calculations for AIDS research. Or genome comparisons for drug development. Or sample analyses for better cancer treatments. In fact, your computer can do the calculations while you're actually using it for something else.
It's possible when you volunteer your PC or laptop's unused time to World Community Grid (WCG), created by IBM. Grid computing joins together thousands of individual computers, establishing a large system with massive computational power equal to a supercomputer. Because the work is split into countless tiny pieces and done simultaneously, research time shrinks from decades to months.
So why not donate something you don't need, use or even think about-your idle computer time-and help make the world a better place? Here's how it works.
Your first step is to go to worldcommunitygrid.org and download a free, small software agent onto your PC. It is similar to a screensaver. An icon will appear in your lower right-hand icon tray. Your computer is ready to go to work. Then, this agent will request a set of data-or an assignment-from World Community Grid servers, located at an IBM facility. These servers send out the "job" assignment (in the form of a data packet) in triplicate-to three separate PCs-as a security measure.
Turn your PC into a tireless volunteer
When idle, your computer performs the calculations and sends the results back to the servers. An average task runs 10-20 CPU hours. The servers wait for the other two sets of identical data to be returned. The results are compared to ensure that they are identical and no hacking has occurred. The servers then send out a new work unit to your PC.
Only when your computer is turned on, and the agent senses it's idle, will it be "volunteered" for research work, according to the guidelines you set. Even when your applications are up, your system is idle about 80% of the time and this power can be used. You'll know when your computer is being used for research because a screen saver appears, charting the progress on your current task.
As of early February, about 255,000 individuals from 200 countries have registered some 500,000 devices, contributing 75,000 years of run time to the Grid. It ranks among the top five supercomputers worldwide. You can track results here.
Fourteen IBM servers serve as "command central" for WCG. When they receive a research assignment from an organization, they will scour it for security bugs, parse it into data units, encrypt them, run them through a scheduler and dispatch them out in triplicate to the army of volunteer PCs.
As results come in, they are scrubbed, validated and assembled into a file. When all the calculations are returned and the assignment is complete, the data is packaged and sent to a directory for retrieval.
Current active projects:
Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy
Fiocruz Genome Comparison
Help Defeat Cancer
Human Proteome Folding
How do projects get chosen?
Projects with the best potential to benefit from WCG technology are chosen by an independent, external board of philanthropists, scientists and officials. Submissions should address humanitarian concerns. Here's the link: Submit a proposal.