IBM's distributed computing system for solving some of mankind's thorniest problems has won a prize at the Business in the Community (BITC) Awards for Excellence.
The World Computing Grid gets its power from the aggregated spare computing capacity of 1.3 million PCs belonging to 460,000 volunteers from over 200 countries.
The Grid is equivalent in processing power to a top 10 supercomputer. IBM donated the hardware, software, technical services and expertise to build its infrastructure and provides free hosting, maintenance and support.
Computing for world change
In total, 14 projects are running or have been completed on the Grid, involving teams of scientists from 35 research centres in six countries. Projects cover three big topics of nutrition, disease and the environment, contributing to five of the eight Millennium Development Goals.
Current projects include identifying possible antiviral flu compounds, research into muscular dystrophy, a search for the best materials for next-generation solar cells and models for maximising rice yield.
According to Larry Hirst of IBM: "A lot of important scientific research isn't happening. It lacks the funding for the supercomputing capacity that is needed to execute large and complex calculations. World Community Grid changes the rules. It's free and available to both public and not for profit organizations for use in humanitarian research that might not otherwise be performed."
Like other distributed computing projects (notably @SETI searching for little green men), World Computing Grid runs on software called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), allowing spare cycles to contribute to larger computations.
BOINC is a free download that runs in the background - more information on the software and projects can be found at http://boinc.berkeley.edu.