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Lending a Helping Cyberhand: Join the All-Volunteer

Computer Grid

By Mark R Smith , C3H IT Services Architect

In these days following the Katrina disaster, we all are hearing of ways that we can help others by sharing some of our own resources. One way that many of us can make a difference is to “donate” some of the excess resources on our own Personal Computers (PCs). No surgery on your PC is required, only that you install a Grid program very similar to the Anti-Virus program and Firewall software that we hope all PC owners are running these days!

Many of us are very fortunate to have PCs which sit around idling much of the time because there isn't anyone actively using the PC, or the PC is waiting for a program to download, or playing a song or whatever people do with their PCs these days. Even when we are using the PC, many times it is like driving a Ferrari sports car at 15mph, there’s lots of capacity under that hood, but the way we use the PC doesn’t exploit it. Is there a way to use this resource effectively to do more than just provide extra heat?

Well, I’m writing this because, yes, there are ways to donate your “spare computing” cycles! There are many projects with hundreds of thousands of volunteers collaborating on the Internet. These volunteers are using software that has evolved since the mid-1990s into very stable, secure way to share PC resources. These projects are known as “Grid Computing” projects. Here are links to three Grid Computing projects that are very active and run reliably in support of non-profit research:

The Grid software uses only "spare" computing cycles and disk space on your PC. Over a decade of testing has gone into making grid software stable and secure so that the programs cannot do anything on your PC other than run small pieces of scientific computing code when nothing else is running on your PC. You control when the Grid software runs and can turn it on or off as you wish from a distinctive little icon that is installed at the bottom of your PC display.

Our family has put all of our PCs, both Windows and Linux, on the World Community Grid (WCG) in support of the Human Genome Project. Macs are supported by most grid projects as well These PCs become part of a World Wide shared computing resource forming a “virtual, shared supercomputer”. Prior to coming (back) to the Triangle area, I had the privilege of working at Cornell University and the NASA Ames Research Center where part of the mission was providing supercomputing resource to deserving, but under-funded, research projects. These projects explored areas such as medicine research that drug companies couldn’t find profitable to research. Now, Grid Computing brings together tens of thousands of individual PCs into Grid supercomputers that these projects can tap into, with a little help from people like us!

Grid software has become so popular that some companies such as IBM & HP actively encourage all their employees to put the PCs that are used at their workplace on a Grid project! Here the spare cycles support non-profit activities that may advance the development of effective treatments for HIV/AIDs, malaria, SARS, some cancers, and more.

We hope that many of you who are members and supporters of our Community Church of Chapel Hill will join us in our ProgressiveGrid group in each of the projects above. The goal is to build a team who elects to choose projects as they come along for the greatest impact to the underserved communities of the world. Right now, we have joined the FAD grid in HIV drug research as well as the Proteome Folding Project on the World Community Grid.

We will be posting more information on the Community Church website (c3huua.nc.uua.org) under the “How to Get Involved”, or contact me at: Grid-C3H@sneakemail.com