By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
As a child, Kevin Reed was surrounded by scientific research, growing up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, home to one of the U.S. government’s largest national laboratories. Clearly it made quite an impression. Today, as an IBMer in the Midwest, Kevin is devoted to helping make groundbreaking research possible in some of the key humanitarian fields of our time — and to involve potentially millions of ordinary citizens in the effort.
Kevin has spent the past seven years helping build and run World Community Grid, IBM’s volunteer computing initiative that pools unused processing power (PC downtime) donated by computer users worldwide and makes it available to public and not-for-profit research initiatives. Kevin and his team are helping accelerate visionary research on AIDS, muscular dystrophy, world hunger and more.
“This program allows researchers to look at many problems more extensively and complete research quicker than they ever could with conventional cluster computing resources,” Kevin said. “Plus, it engages the public in scientific research in a way where they are actually participating in it and making a real difference.”
Once a fan, now a force in volunteer computing
Kevin joined the World Community Grid project in 2004, months before launch, as the Web site lead developer. He was a perfect fit for the job as he had been interested and active in volunteer computing for years, participating in both SETI@home and grid.org.
Today, Kevin, an IT architect, leads the team responsible for the project’s infrastructure and Web site. He works closely with the open source software that volunteers run on their computers — known as Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing — and, essentially, makes sure the grid is up and running properly. Kevin is also responsible for forecasting — and making sure the grid can handle — future growth.
Currently, that growth averages 120 new volunteers daily. A respectable rate, but just a start, as Kevin sees it.
“We have half a million registered users, but we’d like to expand that tenfold,” Kevin said. “Every computer is important. The donated computing time adds up and increases our ability to complete important research.”
Tapping into tablets and smartphones
Along with growing the grid’s volunteer base by millions, Kevin is particularly excited about the potential of drawing idle processing time from an explosive range of new handheld devices to increase the grid’s computing capabilities.
“Tablets and smartphones are starting to reach the point where they can do significant computations,” Kevin said. “In two to three years these devices could become powerful contributors to the grid — for instance, when you come home at night and plug your cell phone into the wall.”
Dedicated to making a difference
Seven years into the grid project, Kevin’s commitment to it only grows — as does his enthusiasm.
“We are getting real results now and I am really looking forward to the point where there may someday be a New York Times headline saying the World Community Grid helped cure cancer,” Kevin said. “Being able to say that I was a part of that will be a truly fantastic moment.”
Every grid volunteer, in fact, will be able to claim some credit for the many breakthroughs to come. After all, that’s what the grid is all about.
“Anyone who wants to help create a smarter planet, this is a great way to do it,” Kevin said. “Helping create this virtual supercomputer out of processing time that would otherwise be wasted — and to use it for the good of mankind — is definitely a smarter way of doing things.”