March 12, 2010
By Kris Foster
Every computer on campus could be solving the problems of the world. All you have to do is step away from your desk for coffee or lunch.
The U of S recently partnered with World Community Grid (WCG)—a program IBM launched in 2004 to create the world’s largest public computing grid— which allows members of the U of S community to install a software package that donates idle computer time (when a computer is not working to full capacity) to a grid seeking solutions to important humanitarian projects.
“It is a way to connect personal computers from around the world, and harness their unused processing power to the benefit of humanity,” said Jason Hlady, high performance computing analyst and WCG team leader in Information Technology Services (ITS). “WCG only tackles problems that are conducted by public and not-for-profit organizations.”
Computers are necessary to solve complex research problems, and some of these problems require thousands or millions of hours of computer time in order to be solved, explained Hlady. “These massive problems are broken into smaller pieces by IBM in order to be manageable by an individual computer in eight hours or so. Then the computer moves onto the next one. All these tiny problems get put back together, giving researchers complete answers to large problems.”
The U of S is the second Canadian university to join the more than 400 partners contributing processing power to WCG. Because of the volume of partner contributions, said Hlady, WCG is much more powerful than the biggest super computer and able to solve problems quickly. This problem solving capacity is a big reason Hlady wanted to join WCG; if it can solve global problems at such a speed, it can do the same for U of S research problems.
“We are looking at ways to customize the underlying program so that U of S researchers could run their problems on the university’s computers in the same way WCG works. Then computers across campus would be working on U of S research, and would default to working on the humanitarian projects only when all of the available U of S research had been exhausted.”
For more information, visit the ITS website.