Asia@home: Volunteer Computing

By V. Krebs, traducción española Diego Beamonte
26 May 2009

On 16 and 17 April 2009, some 40 participants took part in a Workshop on Volunteer Computing at Academia Sinica in Taipei. Thanks to the support of the Nagaoka University of Technology in Japan, ICVolunteers was present at the event and helped with news coverage and photography.

Volunteer computing is an established technology that enables ordinary citizens around the globe to contribute to important challenges in fundamental science and medicine, by providing idle time on their PCs and even partaking in data analysis via the Internet. Workshop participants represented academic institutions, international organizations and non governmental institutions involved in projects related to computer science and technology, fundamental research, satellite imagery, health and cybervolunteering, to name just a few. They gathered from Taiwan, the Republic of China, Spain, France, Switzerland, Hungary, South Korea, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

For scientists, volunteer computing represents a free and essentially unlimited computing resource. As Dr. Simon C. Lin from Academia Sinica puts it, volunteer computing offers a great potential for Asia and the world more generally speaking. According to him, there are several reasons for this: "in my view, Grid technology is at a critical point at this point in time". He explained that several different middleware systems are in use but are not well standardized. Volunteer computing and thinking as well as cloud computing offer viable solutions. He continues: "The Internet has revolutionized the way the world is dealing with information. However, it has not revolutionized academia and the way research is being conducted". Volunteer computing can provide some answers, especially for research that requires a lot of computing power. Life-long learning can allow those interested in getting involved in specific projects, whether this happens through academia or directly online. "Democratization of science and volunteer computing are related", he continues. "It means that there is an opportunity for an increasing number of developed and developing countries to conduct fundamental researches… and Citizen Cyberscience takes things yet a step further, as it allows the general public to get involved, making it thus no longer just related to academic institutions".

Made popular already a decade ago by the screensaver project SETI@home, volunteer computing now counts over 50 projects running in a wide variety of scientific domains, including climate change, astrophysics, earthquake monitoring and epidemiology. These include Einstein@home, LHC@home, MilkyWay@home, Malariacontrol.net, PS3Grid, Rosetta@home, Climateprediction.net and QCN Alpha. Detailed statistics on running projects are available at http://boincstats.com and http://www.boinc.netsoft-online.com. Several million volunteers are contributing to such projects, many of which use a common software platform called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). However, so far almost all these projects have been launched by scientists in North America and Europe. Therefore, this workshop aims to increase awareness of volunteer computing more widely in Asia.

The objective of the two-day Asia@home workshop is to introduce the technologies underlying volunteer computing to scientists in Asia, who are interested to use volunteer computing as a tool in their future research. The workshop takes a hands-on approach, mixing lectures by leading developers of volunteer computing software with case studies by scientists who have been applying it in a number of fields. In addition, topics such as the interfacing of Grid computing and cloud computing with volunteer computing will be addressed, with demos of practical solutions. The participants will be tutored in several aspects of volunteer computing, including how to adapt existing code to run in volunteer mode using BOINC, how to install a server for volunteer computing, and new trends in "volunteer thinking" projects where the volunteer does data analysis via a web interface, using a new software platform called Bossa (http://boinc.berkeley.edu/trac/wiki/BossaIntro).

For more stories and all the presentations of the event, see the Asia@home  Wiki.

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