Scientific problems that can be split up into small tasks and sent to different computers for independent computation are perfect for solving with desktop grids and volunteer computing. These projects farm out tasks to computers located across the globe, which send the results back to scientists once they are complete.
So how does volunteer computing help scientists? What are the benefits for researchers?
- Because of the huge number (over 1 billion) of computers in the world, volunteer computing can potentially supply more computing power to science than any other type of computing. About 900,000 computers are currently actively participating in volunteer computing supplying about 10 PetaFLOPS (trillion floating-point operations per second) of computing power*. By comparison the K Computer in Japan is the only supercomputer to achieve a performance level of 10 PetaFLOPS.
- Volunteer computing can open up computing to researchers that otherwise would be unable to access such large amounts of computing power. For example the Citizen Cyberscience Centre has been set up to help scientists in developing countries to access the power of internet-based volunteer networks.
- Potentially everybody who owns a computer can become a ‘citizen cyberscientist’. Volunteer computing encourages public interest and participation in science, and provides the public with a voice in determining the directions of scientific research.
- Volunteer computing is often cheaper for academic institutions than other forms of distributed computing in some respects as researchers do not have to provide and maintain resources. There is an enormous potential for ‘free resources’ from computer enthusiasts. Volunteer computing is also self-financing as people buy new PCs, upgrade their system software and maintain their own desktops or laptops.