Grid bids to save the world

Hoping to harness a few million of the personal computers not already running the SETI@home screensaver, IBM and United Devices...

Hoping to harness a few million of the personal computers not already running the SETI@home screensaver, IBM and United Devices yesterday launched the World Community Grid to act as a clearing house for humanitarian IT projects.

Users who would like their computers to work for humanity every time they grab a coffee can download a 1.5Mbyte program that will turn their desktop PC into a number-crunching node on a worldwide grid.

Ken King, vice-president of grid computing with IBM, said the project aimed to provide supercomputer-type resources to between three and five "humanitarian" not-for-profit IT projects every year.

Projects will be approved by a 17-member advisory board, including representatives from Oxford University, the World Health Organization and IBM. "We want proposals that are focused on medical research, environmental research or basic research around human health and welfare studies," said King.

The first project to run on the grid is a protein-folding application for the Institute for Systems Biology.

Big Blue hopes to attract several million PC users into participating in the project and is encouraging its own employees to download the agent software.

The hardware, database and middleware to host the project's back-end processing is provided by IBM, while grid supplier United Devices has contributed the grid infrastructure software as well as the agent application.

The agent will typically run in the background of a user's system as a low-priority application, similar to virus monitoring software, but it can also be configured to run only at certain times of day or to operate as a screensaver, similar to the SETI@home software.

The website for the World Community Grid is at King said that the project attracted more than two million hits yesterday - its first day of operation.

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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