Contributing to a Cause with Technology – The World Community GRID

We are constantly bombarded with symbolism.  We have ribbons for a variety of causes ranging from yellow supporting our troops in combat zones, pink ribbons to show support for breast cancer research, red ribbons to show our concern for HIV/AIDS, religious symbols – all kinds of symbols representing a favorite cause.

Most of these items that we wear, or mount on our car bumper,  are the result of a transaction where we give a selected cause financial support, and our return is a physical symbol.  We never really know how much of our contribution actually makes it to the end user of the donation – however we expect it to be small given the overhead cost of making and distributing symbols, as well as compensation to those who manage the contributions and donations.

On a recent run to 7/11 I noticed the yellow plastic bracelets are still being sold and distributed to symbolize a contribution and support for cancer research.  Again, if I did buy a bracelet, I would wonder how much of my money is actually going to end up materially contributing to actual  cancer research.

There are ways to better control your donation, and in my opinion really make a strong contribution to the end user of your intent.  One of my favorite donations is a bit of electrical energy, a bit of idle computer time, and some bandwidth.  This donation is provided to the World Community GRID.  Their mission is to “create the world’s largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity.”

The World Community GRID takes advantage of your idle computer resources, and applies the processing and storage capacity to support projects including:

  • Helping Fight Childhood Cancer
    The Clean Energy Project
    Nutritious Rice for the World
    Help Conquer Cancer
    Discovering Dengue Drugs
    Human Proteome Folding
    FightAIDS@Home Project

The Technology

The World Community GRID uses a global, distributed compute resource technology model called GRID computing.  GRID computing is different from CLOUD computing.   Grid computing joins together many individual computers, creating a large system with massive computational power that far surpasses the power of a handful of supercomputers. Because the work is split into small pieces that can be processed simultaneously, research time is reduced from years to months. The technology is also more cost-effective, enabling better use of critical funds.

GRID Computing Defined

“Grid computing (or the use of computational grids) is the application of several computers to a single problem at the same time – usually to a scientific or technical problem that requires a great number of computer processing cycles or access to large amounts of data.

Grid computing depends on software to divide and apportion pieces of a program among several computers, sometimes up to many thousands. Grid computing can also be thought of as distributed[citation needed] and large-scale cluster computing, as well as a form of network-distributed parallel processing[citation needed]. It can be small — confined to a network of computer workstations within a corporation, for example — or it can be a large, public collaboration across many companies or networks.

It is a form of distributed computing whereby a “super and virtual computer” is composed of a cluster of networked, loosely coupled computers, acting in concert to perform very large tasks. This technology has been applied to computationally intensive scientific, mathematical, and academic problems through volunteer computing, and it is used in commercial enterprises for such diverse applications as drug discovery, economic forecasting, seismic analysis, and back-office data processing in support of e-commerce and Web services.

What distinguishes grid computing from conventional cluster computing systems is that grids tend to be more loosely coupled, heterogeneous, and geographically dispersed. Also, while a computing grid may be dedicated to a specialized application, it is often constructed with the aid of general-purpose grid software libraries and middleware.
From Wikipedia (”

GRID computing is often confused with “cloud” computing, or other services such as computation and storage, or as metered services.  Cloud computing users do not generally own the physical infrastructure serving as host to some level of software as a service, rather preferring to avoid capital purchases by licensing or renting processing and storage capacity from a commercial provider.  Cloud users consume resources as a service paying only for resources used.

How You Can Help Cure Cancer with Your Personal Computer

So all of the above “mumbo-jumbo” boils down to a fairly simple task.  You go to the World Community GRID website ( ), spend a few minutes reading the intro/explanation, satisfy yourself this is not simply opening your computer up to the nefarious world of hackers, and load the World Community GRID client called “BOINC.” 

BOINC is written and provided to the global community by UC Berkeley labs and the US National Science Foundation as an open-source program designed to support GRID processing for not-for-profit projects.  BOINC runs in the background, using compute resources when they are not being used by you, and transparently giving those resources back to you when you need them for local processing.

So here is my symbolic yellow arm bracelet for supporting cancer.  I have my office computer, laptop, and two additional personal computers used as servers at home.  None of these computers are busy all the time, and all have significant idle time between processing events.  I have BOINC operating on everything except for my laptop.  Yes, you have every right to ask if this is a very non-green thing to do, and the answer I give is:

When contributing processing capacity to the World Community GRID, I incur an electric charge increase of around $2.50/computer/month.  My normal contribution to charities is much higher than the $7.50 burden on my monthly power bill, and I can be assured that nearly 100% of the cost is going directly into the project – not into overhead that could sap as much as 75% or more of my financial contribution to buying a yellow wristband at 7/11.

Here is an example of the global contribution to just one project, the Global Community GRID’s cancer research “Help Fight Childhood Cancer” project:

Global Statistics

Statistics Last Updated: 4/15/09 12:05:54 (UTC) [11 hour(s) ago]

Members 439,520
Devices 1,231,986
Total Run Time 232,626 years
Points Generated  107,993,991,915
Results Returned  262,536,423
Run Time Per Calendar Day (y:d:h:m:s) 139:138:23:44:32
Run Time Per Result (y:d:h:m:s) 0:000:07:45:43
Points Per Hour of Run Time  53.00
Points Per Calendar Day  64,705,807.02
Points Per Result  411.35
Results Per Calendar Day 157,301.63
Total Run Time (y:d:h:m:s) 264:290:10:49:49
Points Generated  204,136,987
Results Returned 349,736

In one day members of the Global Community GRID were able to contribute more than 255 years of processing capacity to the project.  Very powerful.  Very cool.  Very good.

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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