By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
When Jason Hlady sees a computer that is turned on but not being used, just sitting there, idling away, he can’t help but think of the possibilities…
That dormant machine could, at that very moment, be running computations to help cure cancer or fight AIDS. It could be solving algorithms that might lead to clean water solutions, or reduce world hunger, or accelerate any number of other worthy research projects.
Hlady, a high performance computing coordinator at the University of Saskatchewan, wants to cut waste and tap the potential of idle computers across the university. To that end, he is leading the drive to get faculty and staff to connect to the World Community Grid — a global network that pools unused computing power and repurposes it for humanitarian research.
As leader of the university’s World Community Grid team, Hlady encourages colleagues to install software that connects their computers to the grid and runs research computations on the machines when they are on, but idle.
“When a computer sits idle, all that energy is just going up a smokestack,” Hlady said. “By joining the World Community Grid, we’re able to put otherwise wasted computing power to good use, helping solve some of the major problems facing our world today.”
Recruiting computers across campus
Hlady’s efforts began nearly two years ago when the University of Saskatchewan became an official World Community Grid partner, committed to support and contribute computing resources to this cause. To date, the university has donated over 250 compute years — about half a year each day — toward humanitarian research via the grid.
“We’ve really just scratched the surface of what we can contribute,” Hlady said. “Just wait until we start to add large labs and entire departments to the grid.” Hlady hopes to boost student involvement as well.
Eventually, the university’s grid team may engage in friendly team challenges with other teams around the world to see which one returns the most results or generates the most run time in a given time period. “If good natured competition can boost enthusiasm for the grid, I’m all for it,” Hlady said.
High praise for grid partnership
“Number one, the research being done on the grid is top quality and involves pursuing lofty goals for the betterment of the world — and we want to support that,” Hlady said. “Plus, the projects are targeted and peer reviewed, which is not the case with all public grids.”
“Second, we get experience and develop expertise with BOINC, the open source framework on which most grid and volunteer computing initiatives are built,” he said.
“Third, we think that it’s important to lead by example and show that publicly funded universities can be responsible with their resources,” Hlady said. “By connecting to the grid, we waste less electricity and maximize use of our computing assets.”
A real sense of satisfaction
Hlady runs the grid software on all seven computers in his home and office (connecting to the grid is strictly voluntary for anyone in the university community). His enthusiasm for the grid derives from a passion for research and science that goes back to grade school.
“There’s a real sense of satisfaction in enabling good research,” Hlady said. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to feel like you can make any sort of difference in the world when we’re facing such huge problems. But by contributing to the grid, you can make a real impact.”
Hlady encourages institutions of every stripe to become a grid partner.
“If you make this resource available and show people how easy it is to set things up, they’ll run with it,” he said. “The World Community Grid is a positive thing to be involved with for any organization. There’s really no downside whatsoever.”
World Community Grid pools the surplus computer processing power of more 1.8 million PCs registered by over 570,000 people in 88 countries to tackle projects that benefit all of humanity, like fighting childhood cancer, developing clean energy solutions or designing better treatments to fight AIDS. Volunteers simply download free, secure software that runs quietly in the background when their computer isn’t in use and crunches numbers for humanitarian research initiatives. In terms of pure processing power, the grid is comparable to one of the world’s top fifteen supercomputers.
To read more World Community Grid Person for a Smarter Planet posts, click here.