Sunday, 20 February 2011

Folding @ Home


First of all, I  am sorry that I've rather inactive in blogging for a while, but, as I said a few posts ago, I am quite busy lately and I don't really even have the time to turn on my computer.

Today I shall write a post mostly about the marvels of modern science and technology, or more importantly- distributed computing (abbreviated DC) and it's probably most successful and famous project- Folding@Home (F@H for short). Since it's start in 2001 F@H now uses the spare CPU cycles of thousands of idling home computers to simulate the folding process of proteins in the human body and try to discover the causes for illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and many types of Cancers. What this means is you can contribute to the development of modern medical science by simply running a program on your PC.

What is protein folding, you ask? Well, proteins are one of the types of organic matter that build up everything in our bodies. Once they are synthesized by the ribosomes in our cells, proteins fold themselves incredibly quickly before they can carry out their designated functions. If all is done properly, everyone is happy.

Sometimes, tho, errors can occur during this process and those can cause the diseases mentioned above. To find out what exactly makes those errors happen, scientists needed to know more about the folding process in detail. Because folding is an incredibly complex thing, not even a modern supercomputer can't cope with simulating it in an efficient matter of time. So a bunch of people got together in the Stanford University and made a piece software called Folding @ Home and made it available for download to the entire world.

Now, more that ten years later, almost 400 000 CPUs (as you can see by the graph on the right) are actively folding proteins for the further progress of medical science. That's hundreds of times faster than if the project was granted exclusive access to the most powerful supercomputer!

To wider the range of the project and make it even more efficient, F@H has had a client released for every OS out there, including the Sony PS3. Besides those, there are also GPU clients (pictured above) for users with more powerful graphic cards. As you can see, the coolest thing about it is that you can view the folding process in real time.

Here's how it basically works- you download the proper client, enter your nickname, the program downloads a protein from their servers. Then your computer starts working on the unit, which can take from 2 to 10 hours. If it's done before the deadline, the finished unit is then sent back to Stanford and the data is compared to 2 more copies of the same protein calculated by different computers (in case of errors due to a faulty CPU). If everything is OK you get points for the work well done and your rank amongst everyone else who folds goes up.

Interested? You can download the proper client for your OS from here. Or, if you own a high-end graphics card (Nvidia with CUDA supportm for example), download the GPU client from here. If you own a Sony PS3, you need to have the most up-to-date firmware version and then download the optional Life with PlayStation software, which automatically starts to fold every time you run it.

21 comments:

  1. awesome information! thanks for sharing!

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  2. Fuck Nvidia im ATi ALL DAY EVERYDAY

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  3. I use it on my PS3, contributing is awesome!

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  4. Really good article. I was interested in this as I'd only ever seen pictures of what I assume is a protein and never really understood what it was. I built a gaming computer and while I'm not gaming, I might as well be doing this. Thanks!

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  5. cpu's are going to become unbelievably quick and with that expensive too unfortunately

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  6. wow awesome info. tks for this post

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  7. i used to use SETI but i like the idea of a ranking system.

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  8. Thanks for this, I'll try it out, I finally have the chance to do something important with my PC.

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  9. Ive seen quite a few of these out lately, helping contribute processing power times in off peak hours, Im still reluctant to allow anything to whore up my CPU without knowing 100% what its using it for though.

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  10. I wonder if anyone's ever put together a general-purpose cluster computing project over the internet, like this and SETI@home, but able to execute arbitrary code... Closest I can think of are botnets, but they're really not the same, mainly just DDoS and occasional distributed password cracking. Freenet does it for storage, but not processing. What about binding every computer on the internet into huge multiprocessing supercomputer, then just giving everyone an account? Sort of a communal cloud...

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  11. Hmmm? Sounds interesting enough, but it sounds like you need a good internet connection.

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  12. @Mike Yang
    I think you're referring to grid computing. CERN have utilized such a project with computing centers all over the world, helping crunch data from the LHC. I was lucky enough to visit and see one of these centers in a local university. It was basically two small rooms- one for servers and one with many monitors, displaying all sorts of live data from CERN.

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  13. @Niko
    Not really, you just need to be online for when downloading and uploading units, not when folding them.

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  14. Thanks for the download link. This look interesting.

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  15. Very eye opening post. Excellent content!

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  16. I've known about folding@home since 2002 and it's incredibly awesome. Too bad I still don't have a computer good enough to not have to be shut down every day to prevent slow-downs and overheating, or I'd be in on this.

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  17. that's interesting...although i prefer to shut down my computer when i am not using it..electricity is expensive when you add all of them up

    http://skybluetrading.blogspot.com/

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  18. grid computing is excellent. I donate processing power to SETI@Home!

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