IBM targets humanitarian projects with world grid

Hoping to harness a few million of the personal computers are not already running the [email protected] screen saver, IBM Corp. and United Devices Inc. on Tuesday launched a new World Community Grid project designed to act as a clearing house for humanitarian computing projects.

Users who would like to see their computers work for the betterment of humanity every time they grab a coffee can download a 1.5 MB software package that will put their desktop PC into number crunching node on a worldwide grid.

The project, which is sponsored by IBM and grid software vendor United Devices aims to provide supercomputer-type computing resources to between three and five “humanitarian” not-for-profit computing projects per year, according to Ken King, vice-president of grid computing with IBM.

Projects will be approved by a 17 member advisory board, which includes representatives from the Mayo Clinic, Oxford University, the World Health Organization, and IBM, King said. “We want proposals that are focused on medical research, environmental research, or basic research around human health and welfare studies,” he said. The first project to run on the grid is a protein folding application being run for the non-profit Institute for Systems Biology.

Big Blue hopes to attract several million PC users into participating in the project and is encouraging its own employees to download the agent software, King said.

The hardware, database and middleware software to host the back end processing involved in the project is provided by IBM, while United Devices has contributed its grid infrastructure software as well as the agent application.

The agent typically will run in the background of a user’s system as a low priority application, similar to virus monitoring software, but it can also be configured to run only at certain times of day or to operate as a screensaver, similar to the [email protected] software.

The project attracted over 2 million hits on Tuesday, its first day of operation, King said.

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