|BOINC Logo, Michal Krakowiak 2008, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.|
Have you ever heard of distributed computing, grid computing or volunteer computing? Do you know what BOINC, World Community Grid, SETI@home and Folding@home are?
Grid computing is the use of distributed computers to solve computational problems. Think of it as a supercomputer formed by many small computers all around the world where every small computers are connected across the globe by a "grid" known as the Internet. The main purpose of grid computing is to provide a more economical way to solve real world problems that benefit humanity like finding methods to cure cancer and AIDS, modelling climates, search for pulsars and proving Mathematical conjectures.
The basic working model of grid computing is to divide the big and extensive computing job into many small pieces and the small pieces are sent to every volunteer computers to work in the background. This is the main advantage of grid computing to the conventional supercomputer. Grid computing have more flexibility to expand and scale operation while supercomputer have to undergo major engineering and programming work in order to expand. Besides, the computational power of grid computing nowadays is already comparable to most supercomputers. One of the most famous computing grid, World Community Grid, already has a performance of 395.778 TeraFLOPs which is as fast as IBM Blue Gene in 2007. The total computing power using BOINC manager is sitting at 6.642 PetaFLOPs averagely in October 2012, faster than the 4th fastest supercomputer in the world.
Almost all projects in grid computing uses BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) to distribute and process work units. Developed by University of California, Berkeley, it is now running in about 600,000 volunteer computers worldwide. BOINC processes work units by using unused CPU cycles through a method called CPU scavenging. Normally, computer processors are running at about 10% of the maximum performance and the extra processing power can be donated to the grid for a good cause. Some projects also support NVIDIA's CUDA and OpenCL for improved performance by using the ultra fast parallel computing capabilities in GPUs.
The largest public computing grid is World Community Grid powered by IBM with a total user of about 350,000 contributing about 395.778 TeraFLOPs. In 2003, in less than 3 months, scientists are able to identify 44 potential treatments for the smallpox disease by using the grid. One of the newest grid is Charity Engine where the users can have a chance to win the prize draw for every work done while donating computing time. Here is a list of grid computing projects and start contributing to the one you are interested with instead of letting your computer stay idle.