Distributed Computing in 2010
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Distributed Computing in 2010

Distributed computing has taken on a whole new window of opportunities since SETI@home first appeared.

Distributed computing is nothing new in the year 2010. However, the manner in which the technology is being put to use, and the results of such use, has started to have tangible results. The most famously known, and one of the first publicly available distributed computer networks is the SETI@home project. This screensaver that can be downloaded to a person’s computer goes to work when the computer is idle. It starts to crunch data received from various radio telescopes in the world to find proof of extra-terrestrial lifeforms. In August of 2010, the distributed computing project known as the Einstein@home project discovered a Pulsar from their distributed computing platform (see http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/08/boinc-bags-a-pulsar-via-einsteinhome-distributed-computing.ars for the complete story).

There are many other uses for distributed computing, some with great potential, and some with the potential to cause harm. Depending on your point of view, the very same distributed computing platform can be both good and bad. For example, since the late to mid-nineties, distributed computing has been used to attempt to break encryption and other security measures. In 2008, a Russian organization was able to use NVIDIA GPU (graphic processing unit) in a distributed network, to successfully crack the wireless networking WPA and WPA2 encryption model. (see http://hothardware.com/News/Russian-Firm-Uses-NVIDIA-GPUs-To-Crack-WPA-WPA2/ for more details). So did they do something bad by cracking the encryption on WPA and WPA2? In this case, no they didn’t. They shared their find with the technology community as a whole, which spurred more advanced encryption capabilities to help secure wireless networks. They could have stayed quiet and stolen quite a bit of data worldwide by using their exploited systems, but instead they chose to share the power of distributed computing and how it can be an effective tool.

Another example of distributed computing in the year 2010 is the ability for gaming to become more available to those with computers who might never have been able to play before. Older, slower computers, or those with poor graphics cards often cannot play games. If you do an Internet search for “distributed computing games” you’ll find quite the list of available games you can now play, and in many cases, even on the newer netbooks.

One of the newest manners in which distributed computing is coming into play is in the corporate environment, albeit at this time this particular technology is limited to the larger corporations. One such company (that wishes to remain anonymous) has offices in 38 countries worldwide. Many of these offices are smaller, 2-10 person locations with limited bandwidth, and in some cases, less than brand new computers. Sometimes when they are trying to connect to a database that is housed on a server in another country, they have slow access times, sometimes lag from the overall network/Internet, and sometimes just because their computer is trying to do too much. They have married multiple technologies to work for them in such a manner to harness the fact that at any given time, because of the earth’s time zones, there are many offices closed for business. While these offices are closed, their servers are able to tap into the resources that workstation has to offer to combine the effort to complete globally needed tasks. While one office is closed for business, its computers are still hard at work helping their coworkers around the world do their job, and vice-versa.

There is quite a bit of promise yet to be realized in the world of distributed computing and the sun is rising over the horizon in 2010

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