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IBM Launches Public Grid Computing Project

IBM hopes to give a boost to large-scale public grid computing projects with the launch of the new "World Community Grid."

Such public projects — where computer users volunteer spare processing power to create a virtual supercomputer to solve complex problems — are nothing new, but having Big Blue's weight behind such efforts will no doubt raise their profile. It will also likely draw more attention to grid computing's commercial benefits, something Big Blue has been pushing since mid-2001.

IBM will join with grid computing firm United Devices — whose founders hail from such well-known public grid projects as SETI@home and Grid.org — along with science, education and philanthropic organizations to form World Community Grid (worldcommunitygrid.org), a global effort to apply the unused computing power of personal and business computers to help address some of the world's most pressing health and societal problems.

The project will use all that processing power to attempt to unlock genetic codes that underlie diseases such as AIDS and HIV, Alzheimer's and cancer, improve forecasting of natural disasters, and support studies to protect the world's food and water supply. Anyone can volunteer to donate idle and unused computer time to the project by downloading free software and registering at worldcommunitygrid.org.

"That's what innovation means to us — solving societal issues, not just business problems," said Ken King, IBM's vice president of grid computing.

The project will also demonstrate to potential IBM customers that large-scale grids can be deployed securely and successfully.

"Grid computing is a key part of our overall on-demand strategy," King told Grid Computing Planet.

While large-scale grids are widely used in scientific and academic computing, most commercial grid computing efforts occur within corporate firewalls. Over the next few years, IBM sees enterprises extending their grids outside the firewall to encompass the entire enterprise, eventually leading to resource-sharing with other organizations.

The first project of the World Community Grid, the Human Proteome Folding Project, is sponsored by the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, a non-profit research institute dedicated to the study and application of systems biology. The project hopes to identify the proteins that make up the Human Proteome to better understand the causes and potential cures for diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

Further projects will be selected by the advisory board from proposals from research, public and non-profit organizations seeking to conduct humanitarian research using grid computing technology. The board is expected to oversee five to six projects a year.

"World Community Grid will enable researchers around the globe to gather and analyze unprecedented quantities of data to help address important global issues, including public health issues," stated Elaine Gallin, an advisory board member and the program director for medical research at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

IBM has donated the hardware, software, technical services and expertise to build the infrastructure for World Community Grid and provides hosting, maintenance and support. United Devices will aggregate the idle power of participating PCs and laptops into its existing worldwide grid.

Thousands of IBM employees are donating computing time to the project, which will be powered by IBM eServer p630 and x345 systems and IBM's Shark Enterprise Storage Server running IBM DB2 database software and the AIX and Linux operating systems.

"We're asking our folks to sign up for this," said King, calling IBM's commitment to the project "extremely significant."

With 650 million PCs around the globe, King said "the sky's the limit" for how big the grid could become.

The advisory board of the World Community Grid includes representatives from the National Institutes of Health, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Markle Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, Oxford University, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Development Programme. The board will be chaired by Linda Sanford, IBM's senior vice president for Enterprise On Demand Transformation.