Sunday, 11 December 2016

And Zebedee said - BOINC!

Ive just recently decided to get back into using my PCs idle time to contribute to scientific and medical research. I used to do this quite some time ago, when taking blocks of data from the Arecibo radio telescope and searching it for evidence of little green men was all the rage, but havent done so for some time.

Its been suggested to me that others might be interested in this and that I should mention on here how to get involved, so, I will,

Firstly, you need to know what it is your getting involved in! Essentially, your letting your processing power be used in an official and above board Botnet! But, unlike a spammer or other nefarious dude of the internet underworld, in this case your processing power is used for the good of mankind, or, at the very least, to help some very dull mathematicians solve hideously difficult and probably pointless equations involving prime numbers, and give them maybe enough of an exciting moment that just one might actually manage to pull a girl...

What you are doing is getting involved in Distributed Computing, as part of a Grid Network. Imagine the architecture of a supercomputer - lots and lots of processor cards rammed into vast racks, and all networked together. Now, imaging that each of those cards was not in a rack, but in someones home, office, mobile phone etc, and the network was the internet. Well, thats exactly it. A control server splits the work up into liddle iddy biddy meatballs, and sends a few to your device. Your CPU (and if you have a powerful enough one and your project can use it, your GPU) then crunches the numbers - so long as your not using it yourself. If you are, it waits until your not (or does less crunches) and then starts again. The result is that instead of sitting there bored and running windows idle processes, waiting for you to play, your expensive multi-core processor can happily get on with doing what it was made for. When its done, it sends the finished jobs back, does its best silicon Oliver Twist and asks for more, and the work server assigns you credit for a job well done.

So what do you need to do this? and above all, why would you?

Well, the why is because your a very public spirited and charitable person, and the chance to use waste PC time to solve sciences big questions, probe the mysteries of the universe, find cures for diseases etc, with no cost and little effort, appeals to you. That or your the sort of person who will keep adding PCs to try and be top of the score cards!

The what, again is simple. If your reading this blog, then chances are you have all you need - an internet connection, and a device with a decent CPU in it. All you need then is the client software, called BOINC. You can get this here which will also explain more of what your doing. BOINC stands for Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing. Once you have the client installed, you go to 'add projects' and simply select those that interest you. Only some of those listed are currently active, but if the one you choose isnt active it simply wont use any CPU time. You can play about then with settings to do with now and when the projects run on your machine. The website will explain that better than I can.  A few projects require specialist hardware so you can only take part in those if that hardware is available at the time. Interestingly though, one project for sensing earthquakes can use your mobile phones accelerometers and run on the Android BOINC client. Yes, you can do this on your phone too! And why not, chances are your phone has more processing power than the last PC you owned before your current one!

And then you just leave it to get on with it. Some projects do have graphics showing you what they are doing, such as SETI@home (searching for aliens) and Rossetta@home (protein folding analysis), but generally you just leave it to get on with it in the background.

The screenshot above shows my current active projects. Thats how it looks and thats all there is to it. Close the client and it will run in the background following the preferences you've set up.

If your PC is left on doing nothing you may as well do this and contribute!

1 comment:

G7TAO said...

Great explanation, thanks G7MRV!