The internet is a powerful beast when you consider just how many computers are networked together.
The ability to tap into the power of these networked machines has lead to a plethora of distributed computing applications that make use of multiple machines across the globe to process information many times faster than even the most powerful super computer.
One such program is World Community Grid (WCG), a program that lets you do your part in order to help scientists do theirs.
What is Grid Computing?
Grid or distributed computing is where many separate computers process data simultaneously, creating a large computing system that is capable of outperforming the few super computers that are currently in operation.
What this means is, a program will distribute data to various machines across the World Community Grid (WCG) network. Those machines will then process that small amount of data and send it back to WCG, which correlates all the information to solve various projects.
These projects include Computing for Clean Water, The Clean Energy Project, Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy and Help Fight Childhood Cancer.
You can choose to contribute processing time to each project, or focus on particular projects that appeal to you for whatever reason.
How you fit in with WCG
So WCG is just a way you can contribute your unused processing power to help scientists figure out a number of projects, and it’s easier to set up that you think. All you need to do is download the WCG program and follow one of the numerous set up guides available online.
Once set up, the program will make use of your system while you aren’t. When you’re just browsing the internet, working on office documents and even watching movies, most of your processing power is remaining dormant.
What WCG does is, it makes use of the unused 80 percent or more of your processing power that you’re currently not using to work on data sent through by the WCG project. The beauty of the WCG app is that it does this without you even noticing it, you won’t experience lag, and you don’t have to manage the project at all.
The best part though; when you need to make use of your CPU, WCG stops working. So if you decide to jump into a game or work in Photoshop, you still have access to all of your processing power.
Things you need
You need surprisingly little to get started, just a PC, an internet connection and the WCG application. You need to register to download the application, though this is painless and over in a matter of minutes. What registration does give you is access to all of your statistics, including the amount of points you’ve earned (turning World Community Grid into a competition of sorts), how many processing hours you’ve contributed to the project, the amount of results your processing has contributed to the project.
The risks and cost
There are some costs involved in this, though not in the form of membership fees of software fees as you’d expect. The costs come in at the end of the month when your electricity bill arrives.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds though; running a core i7 machine at 3.5GHz for 10 hours a day using WCG increased my monthly bill by around R300, a small price to pay if you’re into these sorts of projects.
The risks are minor, but present; they come in the form of overheating. Because your processor is running at a high load, it will run rather hot. You’ll need to make sure that your cooling system is capable of running at these load levels for this amount of time without running at dangerously high temperatures.
That said, unless you’re running an inadequate cooling solution in the first place, or are overclocking with a high core voltage, your system should be fine.
There are a number of distributed computing projects, some use your CPU similar to World Community Grid, others make use of parallel processing and graphics cards. Others still don’t require much in terms of CPU, but rather your time in the form of solving puzzles via game interfaces.
Either way, there is a vast amount of performance potential on a global scale. Distributed computing makes it easy to tap into that potential, so we might as well use it for something that will benefit us in the long term.
You can learn more about World Community Grid and download the application here.