Posted by: Jack | February 11, 2007

Follow Up: Boinc! Distributed Computing

I just came across an interesting fact regarding the distributed processing application I wrote about recently. To those who know little of distributed computing, the idea of sending out work to be done remotely by a random assortment of household computers may seem like a novelty without much potential for success. Even with my somewhat limited formal education on this subject I doubted the endevour would accomplish much due to lack of volunteers. But I was quite wrong. Viewing progress statistics on just one project which my computer has been processing, I found the simulated speed of all the computers working together is over 70 TFLOPS.

TFLOPS (Tera (Trillion) Floating-Point Operations / second) probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to most people so I’ll try to give some frame of reference. Currently the world’s most powerful general-purpose computer is Blue Gene (at least last I heard it was) and it can do about 35 TFLOPS. I don’t know exactly how much a Blue Gene system costs but I do know it cost IBM over $100 million in research and when running, the system requires the same amount of power as a small city. So instead of the millions of dollars to purchase and operate this system, these distributed computing projects have hardware and power costs of virtually nothing (for the research teams) and can easily surpass the most powerful super-computers.

In looking up some figures for this post I discovered that the entire BOINC system averages at 484 TFLOPS. To give this an even more mind-blowing frame of reference, consider your own number crunching speed in comparison. Measure the time it takes you to calculate 0.00123 divided by 2.19037 or just realize that it would take long enough that you don’t actually want to do it. Feel free to use pen and paper; processors “show their work” too but their “paper” is a bit smaller and not made of wood. Now figure out how many of these calculations you can do in one second (likely to be a very small fraction, approximately 0.0167 FLOPS) and compare that to the BOINC system which does 484,000,000,000,000 of those calculations every second of every day. If every human on Earth were to work on this together at a speed of one FLOP per minute, we would still be operating at 1/5,000,000th of the speed of BOINC.

Hooray for technology!

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