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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 2, 2009
Network Computing
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Pole Position
December 2, 2009   
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Network computing, or a host of computers working together to solve a specific problem at the same time, is an area of information technology that opens new prospects for scientists and research institutions in Poland, according to researchers affiliated in a group called the BOINC Polish Project association.

The group has set its sights on spreading awareness of the potential offered by network computing in this country.

BOINC, short for Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, is a noncommercial project developed at the University of California, Berkeley, by a team of researchers led by David Anderson. The National Science Foundation, an independent U.S. government agency, supports the project. It involves personal computer users taking part in scientific projects that require enormous computing power. BOINC aims to create a shared infrastructure for various research programs that need to use computing power exceeding that of available equipment by tapping into the potential offered by network computing.

Free and open
The BOINC is a science project software platform for volunteer network or grid computing involving many personal computers working on one problem at the same time. Network computing requires operational computers, a well-defined research question and an efficiently distributed workload between individual PCs. The BOINC uses free, open-source software launched under the Lesser General Public License (GNU LGPL) system. It comprises the project server software and volunteers' PC software. The server distributes data for computing between individual PCs taking into account their computing power, RAM capacity and average time devoted to BOINC-related work. The computers are provided with all the necessary applications and data to start a given operation. The operation may take from a few seconds to hundreds of hours. Thanks to regular saving, the process does not need to be completed "in one go." The results of work on each portion of data are sent to the server.

Users make their computers available for the project, thus expanding the computing database and contributing to the problem's solution. This kind of computer base constitutes a supercomputer that could not otherwise be built and operate as an independent machine, involving hundreds of thousands or even millions of computers and enormous computing power.

In most projects, the same data is sent to a number of PC users so as to compare and verify the results and eliminate any errors. BOINC participants can be involved in one or more projects at the same time.

In the grid
The BOINC Polish Project association was established Aug. 10, 2006 as an initiative by five young researchers: Michał Jarosz, Krzysztof Dmochowski, Artur Gregorczyk, Adam Hajok, and Krzysztof Piszczek.

The association's statutory tasks include launching and promoting Polish network computing projects, collecting and providing technical information required for the projects to be carried out, and spreading awareness of the achievements of Polish scientists and technicians. These tasks are expected to be fulfilled by organizing meetings, lectures and exhibitions, conducting publishing operations, running an online information center, and working with individuals and institutions dealing with similar issues. BOINC members also want to support network computing projects involving non-members, both firms and institutions working for the sake of such initiatives. They also want to win sponsors and attract the attention of the media and communities and groups to network computing and its advantages.

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence
The first BOINC technology-based project was SETI@home, launched at the university in Berkeley in 1999. The project was a scientific experiment using internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Participants were asked to run a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data to identify and decipher any possible signals from alien civilizations, if they exist. The project turned out to be a big success. It had more than 5 million users worldwide over five years.

Based on the SETI experience, American scientists followed up with the BOINC revolutionary platform that makes it possible to work with many projects of this kind simultaneously. Further projects in various fields of science mushroomed, taking advantage of the BOINC computing power.

BOINC enthusiasts include mathematicians, physicists, nuclear physicists, climatologists, graphic designers, astronomers, cryptographers, biologists and geneticists.

Enigma and other challenges
Poland's first BOINC project dates back to August 2006. It was launched under the name NagrzewanieStali@home, part of the master's thesis of a student of computer science. The project operated for less than a week, bringing together more than 130 participants from various countries. The next fully Polish project was Enigma@Home, aimed at deciphering a WWII German Enigma-encrypted message sent from a submarine and intercepted in the North Atlantic in 1942.

At present, Polish researchers are taking part in 15 BOINC platform projects: Climateprediction.net
The Lattice Project
SZTAKI Desktop Grid
World Community Grid.
Julia Pawłowska
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