IBM and several of the world's leading scientific and philanthropic groups Tuesday launched a project that would put millions of PCs to work on research problems ranging from Alzheimer's to disaster forecasting.
Dubbed the World Community Grid, the distributed computing-style project would split complex computing chores into millions of pieces, then parse them out to idle personal computers for the heavy lifting. IBM estimated that there are more than 650 million PCs in use worldwide, each a potential participant in the project to harness the power of large numbers of individual computers in a giant "virtual" system.
One of the best known distributed computing projects is the five-year-old SETI@home, which uses PC downtime to run signal analysis done in the search for signs of intelligent life outside our solar system.
IBM has donated the hardware, software, and technical expertise to create the infrastructure for the Grid, which includes IBM eServer p630 and x345 systems and the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant's Shark Enterprise Storage Server running DB2 database software on AIX and Linux.
Other members of the Grid include the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, Oxford University, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Development Programme.
The first chore for the Grid will be research into the proteins which make up the Human Proteome, an effort backed by the Institute for Systems Biology, which hopes the work will reveal the causes and potential cures for illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis.
"World Community Grid represents a new model for philanthropic giving," said Linda Sanford, an IBM senior vice president and the chairperson of the Grid's advisory board, in a statement. "[It] demonstrates that government, business, and society can be the direct beneficiary of innovation if we're willing to rethink the way innovation and science both develop and prosper."
To participate in the Grid, users must download Windows software from the organization's Web site. http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/