Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grid Progress

The big application for Gimli (Intel Core i7 system, described earlier) has been participation in the World Community Grid, which is an IBM-sponsored project for channeling volunteer computer systems into a "grid" that can apply supercomputer-level power to selected scientific problems, mostly in life sciences. WCG uses the BOINC framework from UC Berkeley. There are many other grid projects using BOINC, and that's where most of the physical sciences and math projects seem to be. (And where my sympathies really lie. I may have to jump off the WCG ship eventually.)

My desktop system is "competing" against zillions of computers (1,328,064 "devices" under control of 468,410 "members"). On the one hand, many members have tried the project but have not actively contributed. On the other, many of the members command fleets of computers in academic or industrial settings, and are able to direct much of their otherwise wasted CPU cycles to the WCG.

In my case, my one computer, running 8 parallel threads, delivers about 8 days of "computing" for every calendar day. My rank in the WCG project is improving on a daily basis. About 30,000 members have provided more processing power (over the lifetime of the project) than Gimli has in about 6 weeks. We'll never be #1, but we should be able to climb the ladder for some time to come.

Remarkably, Gimli is able to run 8 CPU-bound jobs around the clock (at low "niced" priority) without significantly affecting interactive work - - browsing, email, office applications, etc. Only in a few cases is there a noticeable slowdown, e.g., firing up a large VMware image to run Windows XP.

Readers of this blog may ask what all this has to do with Amateur Radio - our raison d'ĂȘtre. That's a good one. I am looking for ham applications that can profit from high-power desktop computing. You might think that Software Defined Radio would be one, but the SDR work I know of really works well in smaller-scale systems. Digital video would be a candidate. Do you have suggestions?

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