Saturday, 15 May 2004

Distributed computing

Everybody knows SETI@home, which is basically a piece of software that you download on your machine and everytime you're not doing anything, it computes stuff to contribute data to the SETI project which is all to do with finding extra-terrestrial life. Other have re-used the same idea for more earthly matters, such as Folding@home that calculates stuff around protein folding, which could eventually be the key to curring some diseases such as Alzheimer's. In both case, you had to download a piece of software on your machine, install it, configure it and run it as a screen saver. Now that's all good and well but the time a machine spends in its screen saver is only a fraction of the time it spends doing nothing. Most users never use 100% of the resources on their machines. Surfing the net or writing email is typically something that takes all the attention of the user but very little machine resources. So, to make use of all those spare cycles, enters Google. They've just come up with Google Compute which works as an add-on for Google Toolbar and uses all those spare cycles that you don't use when browsing the net, in order to contribute to some distributed computing projects, for the moment only Folding@home. The add-on runs as a background task with the lowest priority. As a result, it has no visible effect on the performance of the machine when you use it but it can take advantage of every spare cycle making sure the CPU is always used at 100%. So, download it and contribute your spare cyces to science.

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