Folding@home

The @home distributed computing method has been around for several years now.

What is distributed computing? In short, it’s being able to break a large piece of work into smaller pieces and send them to computers around the world to work on in their spare cycles. Everyday folks like you and can download some software and complete work units while our computers aren’t doing other things.

Most techies are aware of SETI@home which is the search for extra terrestrials. System Administrators have been running up instances of SETI@home for years and years on servers with very light loads. SETI@home takes sections of “space” and chunks it down for the distributed computer cluster to look for radio transmissions.

In the last decade distributed computing model has started being used for more projects. Some of the more exciting projects of late have been medical. One that I’m getting excited about and am contributing to is FOLDING@home.

From the FOLDING@home website

What is protein folding and how is folding linked to disease?
Proteins are biology’s workhorses — its “nanomachines.” Before proteins can carry out these important functions, they assemble themselves, or “fold.” The process of protein folding, while critical and fundamental to virtually all of biology, in many ways remains a mystery.

Moreover, when proteins do not fold correctly (i.e. “misfold”), there can be serious consequences, including many well known diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s disease, and many Cancers and cancer-related syndromes.

You can help by simply running a piece of software.

Folding@home is a distributed computing project — people from throughout the world download and run software to band together to make one of the largest supercomputers in the world. Every computer takes the project closer to our goals. Folding@home uses novel computational methods coupled to distributed computing, to simulate problems millions of times more challenging than previously achieved.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to collect computers. I have at least 3 laptops that hang around not doing anything as they’ve been replaced with something better. I know, isn’t the life of the consultant lavish and exciting?

The upshot is that I’d like to do something to help out, so have run up FOLDING@home on a couple of these machines, and when we’re settled in our new place will organize things a little better and see how much I can help.

I setup a team account to track the amount of work the different computers do, team orangesands.

There are some monster teams out there, they have websites and forums dedicated to helping members setup and maintain their FOLDING@home rigs. Some of the members are running, racks and racks of servers in their homes, with the primary focus of those machines to chew through work units of protein folding. I don’t think I’ll get to that stage, but I would like to pitch in and certainly have the spare machines to help.

If you’d like to check it out, swing on over to the Standford University folding site

I might even run up a page to keep track of how the hive is going.

Cheers,
Shane

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