Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Power Of Grid Computing

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Applications of grid computing

SETI@home project. University of California at Berkeley, USA, coordinates one popular scientific example of grid computing, which is an Internet community application that uses background or downtime resources from thousands of systems, many of these home desktops, to analyse telescope data for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) project.

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In a basic grid computing system, every computer can access the resources of every other computer belonging to the network (Image courtesy: http://computer.howstuffworks.com)
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SETI@home project analyses telescope data for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) (Image courtesy: www.spiritrockshop.com)

The project’s focus is to search for radio signal fluctuations that may indicate a sign of intelligent life from Space. SETI @home is one of the largest and most successful of all Internet-distributed computing projects. Launched in May 1999 to sift through signals collated by Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico (the world’s biggest radio telescope), the project originally received far more terabytes of data on a daily basis than its assigned computers could handle. Therefore the project directors looked up to volunteers, inviting individuals to download SETI@home software to spare idle processing time on their computers for the project.

After posting a backlog of data, SETI @home volunteers began processing present segments of radio signals captured by the telescope. Currently, about 40GB of data is downloaded every day by the telescope and transmitted to computers all over the globe, to be analysed. Results are sent back via the Internet, and the program then collects a fresh segment of radio signals for the PC to process.

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More than two million people—the largest number of volunteers for any Internet-distributed computing project—till date have installed SETI@home software. This global network of three million computers averages about 14 TeraFLOPS, or 14 trillion floating point operations per second, and has gathered more than 500,000 years of processing time in the last two years. Using traditional methods to achieve similar throughput would have meant an investment of millions of dollars and perhaps more than one supercomputer.

Folding@home project. This project is somewhat similar to SETI@home project and is administered by Pande Group, a nonprofit institution in Stanford University’s chemistry department. It involves studying proteins. The research includes the way proteins take certain shapes, called folds, and how that relates to what proteins do. Scientists believe that protein misfolding could be the cause of diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Hence, there is a possibility that by studying proteins, Pande Group may unearth novel ways to treat or even cure such diseases.

World Community Grid (WCG) project. This project is an initiative to create the world’s largest public computing grid to process scientific research projects that benefit humanity. It was launched in November 2004 and is coordinated by IBM with client software available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Android OSes.

In 2003, IBM and other research participants sponsored Smallpox Research Grid Project to fast-track the discovery of a cure for smallpox. The study used a huge distributed computing grid to analyse compounds’ effectiveness against smallpox. The project enabled scientists to observe and filter 35 million potential drug molecules against several smallpox proteins to shortlist good candidates for developing into smallpox treatments.

In the first 72 hours, 100,000 results were returned. By the end of the project, 44 strong treatment candidates were identified. Based on the success of the smallpox study, IBM announced the birth of WCG with the objective of creating a technical environment where other humanitarian research could thrive.

In the beginning WCG only supported Windows, using the proprietary Grid MP software from United Devices, which powered grid.org distributed computing projects. Popularity for Linux support led to the addition in November 2005 of open source BOINC grid technology, which powers projects such as SETI@home and Climateprediction. In 2007, WCG migrated from Grid MP to BOINC for all of its supported platforms.

The project uses idle time of Internet-connected computers around the world to perform research calculations and analyse aspects of the human genome, HIV, dengue, muscular dystrophy, cancer, influenza, Ebola, virtual screening, rice crop yields and clean energy. Users install WCG client software onto their computers. The software quietly works in the background, using spare system resources to process work for WCG.

When a task or work unit is completed, the client software sends it back to WCG over the Internet and downloads a new work unit. To ensure accuracy, WCG servers send out multiple copies of each work unit. Thereafter, on receipt of results, these are collected and validated against each other.

Applicants can select the graphics output by the current work unit as a screensaver. Public computing grids such as SETI@home and Folding@home are dedicated to a single project, while WCG caters to multiple humanitarian projects under a single banner. Users are included in a sub-set of projects by default, but can opt out of projects when they want. By October 2014, the organisation had partnered with as many as 466 other companies and organisations to aid in its work, and had more than 60,000 active registered applicants.

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