BOINC – volunteer grid computing

After discovering that running my computers (modestly used as they are) cost over half of what I pay for electricity every year, I started thinking about how my computers could be put to better use.

I remembered a little known yet well established concept; volunteer computing, which I used to partake in years ago (I can’t think why I actually stopped being involved before). Which basically involves installing a program on your PC which uses your space cpu cycles to work on scientific projects. A central server for a project hands out small chunks to each volunteered computer over the internet and collates the results.

It would appear that this technology has come along in leaps and bounds since I last looked into it, as there are now dozens upon dozens of these projects, all of which have settled on a common framework known as BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing).

I have a very powerful desktop machine (quad-core Phenom 2.5Ghz) which means during daily use I barely scratch the surface of my computers ability.

With BOINC installed however I am constantly using nearly 100%, though despite this I do not notice any loss in performance while running applications.

This is because all other processes take priority over the BOINC client, it simply uses up whatever CPU power you have spare.

It makes me wonder how much quicker, big scientific problems could be solved if every computer in the world was running this software.

The BOINC client is available on most standard platforms and operating systems and is open source so can be modified to run on potentially any system.

Most linux distributions have the software available from their repositories via package management tools such as Yum and Aptitude. If you have a powerful computer that does not use 100% of it cpu time, can you justify not having this software installed?

Full details and install instructions can be found at

About Matt

Cloud Systems Engineer at Reed Elsevier; cloud computing advocate, rock climber, swing dancer, amateur photographer, professional idiot....
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2 Responses to BOINC – volunteer grid computing

  1. I thought with your recent Wake On Wan work you wouldn’t be running any machines unless you were in front of them (electing to wake them remotely for a short period of time if you needed them).

    Still, using spare cycles to help science is a highly commendable thing to do so kudos for doing it :)

  2. Matt says:

    Well you are correct about me using my machines only when required, but bear in mind that is still a significant number of hours of the day. During which time I do inevitably take short breaks where I do not bother to power down the machines.

    Point being that I barely use any of my machines potential on a daily basis. So even when I am in front of my machine using it, it is actually dedicating more CPU cycles to scientific research then it is to my suite of applications. I haven’t actually installed it on my server yet, though only because I’d like to find so documentation for the command line version before I start tinkering with it.

    I doubt I’ll get my account in the top 100 contributors (some people and organisations have dedicated entire racks of servers to run this software) but even so, I expect to make a significant contribution.
    [Edit: Found my stats page: I currently rank 86377 out of 173041 (just outside the top 50%) I have been involved for just 11 days 😀 ]

    The beauty of such a concept though is that each machine doesn’t necessarily need to make a huge impact, provided that their numbers are great enough.

    So I expect you to “sudo apt-get install” right away Kieran 😉

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