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IBM Launches Global Computing Grid To Support Research

The project will tap into the power of home PCs to create a virtual supercomputer.
As part of a broader effort to spur collaborative research in key industries, IBM on Tuesday launched a project through which home PC users can "donate" computer power to help researchers solve problems ranging from the spread of AIDS to earthquake forecasting.

As envisioned, researchers using the World Community Grid, as IBM is calling the project, would be able to tap into PCs worldwide through software that can link millions of individual computers to form a giant, virtual supercomputer. At the other end of the network, philanthropically minded home PC users can attach their machines to the grid through a secure sign-in process at World Community Grid. IBM is launching the project in partnership with United Devices Inc.

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano unveiled the initiative at a customer event in New York City. Going forward, most business and scientific innovation will occur in collaborative environments supported by technology such as the World Community Grid, Palmisano said. Innovation, he added, "is no longer the domain of the individual inventor."

Business models must adapt to a world in which technological breakthroughs occur not just when new products are invented, Palmisano said, but when users find new ways to use existing products. "Those that create assets that are widely used should be rewarded, but rewards should also go to those who create further value from those assets," he said.

His remarks reflect IBM's approach to software. The company is a big proponent of Linux, but it generally bundles the open-source operating system with proprietary middleware in a hybrid approach that falls somewhere between Microsoft and Red Hat.

The World Community Grid will first be used by the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit research group. The organization will tap the grid for a project that looks to gain a better understanding of the human protein structure, with an eye to curing diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.

The World Community Grid is not the first public project to tap home computers in the name of research. Other groups, including the extraterrestrial-seeking SETI Institute, have launched similar programs.