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More On Paid Distributed Computing 122

Nastard writes: "Theres a story over at C-Net News.com about making money with distributed processing. The article talks about several companies that are planning to launch per-per-idle projects this fall. Apparantly someone has finally caught on that there is money to be made in this. No surprise that one of the companies is headed up by SETI@Home founder David Anderson." I've always been a fan of distributed.net -- (Subliminal Message: Sign up for Team Slashdot!), but I do wonder with these pay schemes if the payment will actually be enough to cover the cost of electricity. Hurm.

[timothy butts in ...] Also, you may want to check this out. A semi-anonymous reader writes: "Distributed.net President David McNett recently did an interview here with the guys over at Geeknik.net. In the interview, he discusses his role with Distributed.net, future projects they are going to work on, and how he views competition between the various distributed computing organizations. Great read."

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More on Paid Distributed Computing

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  • And that's different from most existing closed source software how?
  • Google sells search engine services to other companies to place on their web sites such as Redhat, Yahoo, Latino.com, the Washington Post, eToys, eGroups, WebVan, etc. These search engines include a good amount of customization and Google gets a monthly fee out of it of upwards of $2,000.
  • As much as opening source would be a Good Thing(TM), we look at Seti@Home and I just don't think this can be done in an open-source way.
  • i have tryed distributed.net , dcypher.net and seti@home. all of them have pretty interesting projects (distributed: math/crypto , dcypher: physics & seti@home: astronomy?) and i even intend to try popular power and parabon.
    here are my thoughts on all of these projects. i hope you will find them informative

    seti@home is really cool project BUT they already have enough ppl on the project so they are recycling units + they refuse to further optimise their clients because they have enough of computing power. clients exists for every possible platform in the world.

    dcypher.net has really interesting projects going on and is going to pay for processing power in the future. (they are already giving out some money on random basis. like 100$ to a random participant). problem with dcypher.net imo is that their software is still in the development phase. for example stats are not that good + you can cheat in gamma flux project by submitting same units twice or more (your computer generates gamma rays randomly so by just copying your buffers and submitting them once more you can get extra creds on the stat page). i believe that dcypher.net is going to be really good distributed computing effort in few months when they develop their software. clients exist for gnu/linux, freeBSD and windows. mac client is under development.

    parabon still doesnt have a gnu/linux client (they are developing it) so its out of question for most of us slashdot users even if they have really cool project (chemotherapy ). client seems to exist only for windows.

    popular power currently has a project on optimisation of influenza vaccination. they intend to pay for your computing cycles in the future. currently there are clients for gnu/linux and windows. mac client and solaris client are under development. linux client needs really lots of work , its really user unfriendly right now. it excepts you to install separate user just for running client. i will try it when it gets more user friendly.

    and at the end, my currently dist. computing project of choice. distributed.net. oldest dist. computing effort on net. you have several projects to choose from. its 100% non-commercial, you can get most of the source code for their clients, stats are great, clients are stable, they exist for "every os" in the world :). so right now i would recommand to go on with distributed.net (join team SLASHDOT :) but look into dcypher.net, popular power or parabon in few months.
  • I take it someone else pays your dorm fees?
  • It's a good idea you've got there, but the problem with good ideas is that someone else often wants to muck with them.

    With the way things have been going, I can imagine "shrink-wrap" licenses on your dishwasher, toaster, etc., saying that you haven't actually _bought_ the CPU inside, but are just leasing its use for its intended purpose. Moreover, The Company That Made It reserves (and requires) the right to run for-pay distributed services on "their" CPU your appliance in order to offset the cost of providing you with the appliance-in-question (or so the story will go).

    You heard it here first, folks...


  • i think you are missing the point here.
    you dont start distributed project to render one picture. distributed projects are suitable for tasks that need lots of computing power while they are not producing enourmous amounts of data. for example when you download an ogr stub from distributed.net your computer crunches on it for a week. size of one stubb is less than 1kb.
  • Hey, I got one of those Slashdot Cruisers, and let me tell you, they're chick-magnets!
  • If there is money involved, someone will compromise the integrity of the data being reported back, reporting that they have processed more data than they actually have. This has already happened with other distributed efforts that are not for profit. It's okay to have mistakes doing seti research, it's not okay to have mistakes in cancer research.
  • Why no company would ever touch it
    Quite the opposite, most companies invest a huge amount in computers that are idle a large amount of the time. Being able to recoup some of this cost is very attractive. It's like a school renting out a hall or gym outside of school hours.

    I just think it's a shame that it can only be done once. By that I mean, there's a huge amount of untapped CPU time out there, but once a system is in place to use it that's it, you can't use it twice. It's like compression -- one go and it doesn't recompress. Where compression "doubles" the storage capacity of a system, distributed computing "doubles" the efficiency of a computing system. From there on it's just tiny, incremental upgrades...

  • Should our goal for these programs be to leave them on all hours of the day so that we make, if we're lucky, .50 US an hour over electricity? No! We all walk away from our PC sometimes (during dinner, when nature calls, when a friend calls, whatever). For those times when we don't want to mess around with shutting the system down for some reason is why we should use these. You may make a little bit of cash, you may find the cure for canser or find an alien, and you get to brag about how much faster your box is compared to your neighbor/friend/chat buddie's with a realistic stat (except for me. I have a PII-233. Only 64MB ram. A HAHAHAH ATI RAGE PRO WITH 4MB RAM! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!).

    Which brings me to my next point, what about the video card? During non-game use (you know, schhool work, surfing on the web for cheats, etc.), how much of your brand-spankin' new Hercules Prophet II with 64MB DEDICATED RAM (wah! can ya buy me one?) is in use? Probably not even half, and that's if you go for the highest resolution and color depth. Why not utilize these for something? 3D modeling would be hard to implement intelligently, but it would still be possible.

    And a vicious cycle gets started here. Companies like this idea, put out all of their power-munching projects, and we end up with an inbalance with too much needed power. With all these different programs, usage will be split. Then, when enough users and power equalizes, the projects will dry up, leaving some company (probably fresh out of IPO) with no cash, no revenue stream, very little property, etc. Critics will shoot down distributed computing fast. In a few years, someone will try it again. We'll repeat history. A bit apocalyptic, but realistic.

    ProcessTree, if they ever do pay, may have the right idea. This is a great way to fund micropayments. If you're running low, let your computer run overnight and your account filled back up. Unfortunatly, we'll never see this properly. If PayPal is dominant, they'll have a high surcharge (ever look at the fine print on a credit card application? A must-read...). Also, how can we create a unit without trouble from the US government (you know about this problem if you know about experts-exchange.com. Here, you get points for answering questions, and spend another type of points for asking questions. They wanted to just make one type of point, but the IRS(or some other goverment agency) said to do so was illegal.) Wah! The best part!

    Finally, like has been said before here, no one is paying yet. We may never see one that does in our lifetime. Why? Internet companies are stabilizing and becoming sensible. Giving money for borrowing a few wires? Sounds silly.

    Don't get me wrong, I like the idea. But this rant explains my problems.
  • So is this why http://www.dcypher.net can never get any press on /.?
  • Since Hemos brought distributed.net up in a "subliminal message", it made me feel like doing a little ranting. Seriously though, I'm still trying to figure out why so many people are still wasting their idle CPU cycles on the RC5-64 effort. So far, d.net has spent THREE YEARS working on cracking RC5, and they have only gotten through 30% of the keyspace! At the rate they are going, it will probably be at least another year before they find the magic key that unlocks the encrypted message. And when that happens, so what? The whole idea of the project was to show how weak existing security encryption is, but instead, d.net will have ended up proving quite the opposite. Spending four years and using the resources of about 100,000 computers just to break a simple security key won't look very impressive in a press release, and it DEFINATELY won't scare the government into thinking that existing encryption is too weak. It seems that this project has de-evolved into a bragging contest on who can crack the most keys. Gloating comments like "My computer can crack RC5 faster than yours" or "My team is higher in the rankings than yours" seem to be all that's left of this project. A major waste of time, if you ask me.
  • People allready offer banner clients.
    Some make money some banners trade for services (free ISPs)
    The problems with them are the timeout.. forcing you to click on a banner every once in a while.

    If instead you were asked to trade cycles for bandwith..

    You know who to call if they have a back door...
    Same rules that keep open source develupers from sleaking back doors into software will keep closed source clients from doing anything more than using your procesing cycles...

    If you discover otherwise... class action lawsute...
    Then you make some sereous money...

    This is good. Admitedly for closed source.. it might hurt open source a tad..

    But it burns Microsoft...
    Basicly why buy Netscape or Opra when you have IE for free?
    Thats what keeps Netscape free... but... Netscape with a distributed client... can generate money and be free..

    It could also mean we'll see more Linux software and games ported to every Unix platform including Solarus.
    You are sharing processing cycles in trade for software... Linux, BSD and Solarus boxes tend to be left on and running while Windows boxes tend to be turnned off..

    This is less a stability issue and more a geek factor... Macs get in the 50/50 range as they have a strong Geek, Busness and newbe attraction..
    Avrage people turn things off.. lights.. TV... radio etc...

    Windows users turn computers off when they are done like turnning off a TV or turnning off the lights...
    *nix users tend to leave computers running as if it were vital hardware...

    Any computer can run as an alarm clock.. *nix and Mac systems are however more likely than Windows to run as such...
    Simply becouse of the kinds of users who run Windows...

    Anyway so this translates into prefering systems that stay on all the time normally over systems that get turned off...

    Why support 11,000 users who only provide 1 to 2 hours of idle cycles... vs 1,000 users who provid 24 hours of idle cycles a day... in some cases 48 hours of idle cycles a day.. (Two computers... and the occasional time bender)...
    It costs money to support users... and while *nix users support themselfs you gota convence the avrage CEO of this..
    So basicly paying to support 1% of the users who represnt 80% of available idle procesor time is a really good deal..

    and once they realise we don't accually need support... it'll be even better...
  • >>who will be the first sysadmin to get fired for pushing distributed clients
    >Aaron Blosser. Actually he got permission but apparently not from the right people.

    I can see this however...
    SysAdm with stupid bosses throwing clients up so they can have money when they are eventually fired.

    Beats the hell out of stealing office suppys...
  • I doubt any company can sneak a distributed computing client onto a PC; it takes one person to notice and publish their findings. The backlash against the company would be huge.

    I occasionally run a load monitor, and I suspect many others do.

    On a device like a WebTV client, there is no way to run a load monitor. The software is completely controlled by the manufacturer, and probably embedded into the device.

    In addition, most of the people accessing the internet through such a device are unlikely to have the computer literacy to notice, or even care. So it makes sense to exploit the idle time of a device like that.
  • Quite the opposite, most companies invest a huge amount in computers that are idle a large amount of the time.

    Never said everyone doesn't want to get paid, but there are huge reasons not to be the one doing the paying

  • With enough patience, skill, and a good debugger, it is always possible to reverse engineer a binary.

    Yes, but is it legal? DMCA, EULA, and UCITA make reverse-engineering illegal, and the software would probably detect most common debuggers.

    ( \
    XGNOME vs. KDE: the game! [8m.com]
  • If paying for distributed CPU cycles becomes the norm, and every appliance you ever buy eventually has a powerful computer+internet connection, you could feasibly get those appliances for free.

    If the cost of the processor cycles was greater than the cost of the computers themselves those companies wouldn't be giving the computers away; they would be building them, keeping them and selling the processor cycles themselves.

  • Yes, but is it legal? DMCA, EULA, and UCITA make reverse-engineering illegal, and the software would probably detect most common debuggers.

    Do you even remember how this thread started?! Someone worried that because distributed processing schemes might be closed source, people could become unwitting participants in Echelon or Carnivore. I disagreed, pointing out that no intelligence agency would let software processing potentially classified data run on untrusted computers. Allow me to clarify: intelligence agencies are paranoid. They assume that they have enemies with skill and resources. They would assume that these enemies would participate in such a distributed scheme to gain access to whatever possibly secret data was being processed. The fact that it might be illegal to reverse engineer the software would be irrelevant. It's illegal to break into cars, but I'm willing to bet that the NSA, et. al., don't leave classified documents sitting around in the trunks of cars on the side of the street. Finally, intelligence agencies assume that they have enemies competent enough to step through the code using a decent debugger, noticing if the code is trying to check for a debugger, rather than just running the app full tilt and then attaching Turbo Debugger, or whatever the hell you're thinking.

  • Have a close look at that dickweed, folks.

    Now you know why I no longer do anything for free.
    Bowie J. Poag
  • My SETI client IS my load monitor.
    Undisturbed, I can do about 10% an hour.
  • Imagine walking into your average Best Buy and EVERY applince there is free.

    Ain't gonna happen. Why? Well - there is no need of selling this then. The distributed computing companies can walk into your average Best Buy store as you say and get the hardware for free themself.

    The main principe of the current "for free" programs (Internet for free, mobile handset for free, info-servers for free) is that you pay the money in some way eventually. On connected services, by watching comercials and so on.

    With free computers paid by computing cycles, the distributed companies actually do not need you at all. :)

  • but I do wonder with these pay schemes if the payment will actually be enough to cover the cost of electricity.
    Those of us with broadband connections tend to keep our machines on 24/7 anyhow, so this isn't an issue.

    Making money while I sleep...
    Sounds like a nice idea.

  • If talk is cheap, do us all a favor and shut the fuck up. If I see you look a gift horse in the mouth, you're damn right i'm gonna call you on it. Take a hike.
    Bowie J. Poag
  • I was thinking about a method of dealing with sabotage. Why not send the same problem packet to two (three?) different machines signed up with different IP domains. If the answer packets don't match, then send it out to two more machines. This would (I think) take quite a tremendous effort to circumvent. Of course, it requires more than twice as many cycles, but the ability to release full source clients may make up for that.
  • by laborit ( 90558 ) on Saturday September 02, 2000 @01:05PM (#808650) Homepage
    Hemos writes:
    but I do wonder with these pay schemes if the payment will actually be enough to cover the cost of electricity. Hurm.

    I quote the distributed.net FAQ [distributed.net]:

    Doesn't running the client waste a lot of electricity?

    Many modern computers can enter low power-usage states when they detect they are idle. This mostly involves powering down the monitor, stopping the hard drive, and allowing the CPU to enter a slower idle state that does not produce as much heat. Running the client on a normally idle should not affect its ability to power down the monitor, which is a significant part of the power usage.

    However, the hard drives of a power-saving machine may be prevented from spinning down if the client continues to periodically save or load blocks to disk. If you have multiple hard drives in your machine, you may want to consider ensuring that your client buffers and logs are on the hard drive that is most likely to have other activity as well (such as your OS swap file, or OS System directory), allowing the other less frequently accessed drives to spin-down unaffected. You might also want to consider enabling the Client's "nodisk" mode so that it only uses RAM for its operations, but be aware that your work may be lost if your computer crashes or loses power (wasting the power and idle cycles that the client could have used for productive work if it wasn't lost). You might also want to be aware of the fact that spinning up/down your hard drives can actually reduce its lifetime.

    Additionally it is true that the Client will also probably prevent your CPU idle from entering its reduced power consumption idle cycle mode (sometimes called "HLT" mode in x86 processors). However, the actual power consumption by the CPU processor alone is actually a minor portion of the total usage by the computer (much less than 20% usually), and entering the lower usage idle mode only reduces that amount slightly. Note that this idle mode is unrelated to the CPU frequency-lowering that is sometimes done automatically by APM services when no user interactivity is detected (the client will not interfere with this reduction). You should also be aware that sometimes computer fans run only when excessive heat is detected (such as from a continuously operating CPU or hard drive). These cooling fans are an additional source of power usage.

    Overall, the actual difference in power consumption by computers that are running the client during periods of time when they are normally left on (for unrelated purposes) is very minor....
    - Michael Cohn
  • I can't comment on paid distributed computing, but I can vouch for alladvantage paid ads. Not a large check [in fact, they changed their rewards recently to make them lower :(]
    The best thing is that you can easily filter out the ads with a proxy. Money wants to be free :)

    <O O&gt
    ( \/ )
    X X
  • We're only a couple of steps away from not owning our own computers. If you think you dislike having someone dictate when or how you can watch your own DVD or use your own word processor, how do you think you'll feel when your new PC comes with a mandate from its maker that you MUST let them run whatever idle-time daemons they want? That you MUST let them use your internet connection whenever they want? To some extent, this is already happening. If this trend continues, we're all going to be paying for our CPU-seconds again, just like in the good old 1950s.
  • Subject says it all :)
  • What is thought of running these types of pay-for-idle processor time setups at work. I know that a lot of people set up distributed.net or SETI clients at work (machines not owned by themselves) I wonder if companies will mandate that all computers run a clients that pay you back. The money could significant if you are at a site with several hundred computers. And what are the implications of making money off your employers spare computer cycles?
  • We are consistently accelerating our chip schedule because of these mammoth computing resources," Intel vice president Pat Gelsinger said at an Intel conference last week. "We sped up validation on (our) latest chip by eight weeks."

    Hey intel-didn't you recall your latest chip because you didn't do enough validation before you released it?

  • ...the system has to be highly redundant. Send each calculation job to, say, 10 random nodes. Grab the 10 outputs. If one of them looks different, discard it.

    Repeat offenders would be shut down from the calculation ring and notified that either their piece of code is malfunctioning or has been tampered with.

    This way the client software could be open-source'd without any problem. I actually think SETI@Home does something like this.

  • Not true. Most OS's execute (Win9x is the exception) a HLT-loop in idle time. Halt puts some parts of a CPU in sleep mode, where they consume significantly less electricity than normaly. Buck a month would not cover the increased in your electricity bill.
  • What the Slashdot story and the underlying CNet article don't mention is that nobody is actually getting paid yet. I got all excited when I read these stories, and I proceeded to visit every company site named in the CNet story. None of them are paying out yet, and none of them even have pay rates figured out. Save your time.

    Going further, I did a search on Yahoo, and hit just about every company listed under Distributed Computing. None of them are paying out - they're just taking in money from investors.

    The Slashdot story is only partly right - there is indeed money to be made from this idle-cycle scheme, but it isn't going to be made by folks like you and me. It's being made by the companies who are suckering investors into this. Of all the sites I went through, I counted a rough total of over sixty million bucks in funding that the companies had gotten from investors. And not one dime has been paid out yet....
  • thats probably why distributed.net is sending each ogr stub twice and discards it if they are not identical when they are returned.
  • My bill is about $300 for 3,000 kwh per month. Using my MIT PhD, this gives a marginal rate of about $0.30 per kwh (yes, this is simplified, but given the itemized transmission charges, generation charges, fuel adjustments, warthog taxes, all all the rest on your bill, not a bad approximation). A P2 333 will take roughly 16 hours to do a seti set under Windoze and 12 hrs to do it under BeOS (since it is the same machine it must be M$ "innovation" tax I guess...). Lets figure it as 12 hrs, lets further figure that there is a 200 watt load for this. This is thus 2.4 Kwh for the set or $0.72 per seti set of electicity. If you are someplace that needs air conditioning, figure the cost of the heat removal also, if you are heating, give yourself a credit. A 450 Mhz G4 will do it in 6 hrs, thus $0.36 for the sake of argument. Seti scales directly with the speed of the cpu, but the Athlon and P3 etc. machines are more power consumptive than the standard P2, so I would assume that although a 750 Athlon does it in 6 hrs, it requires 300 watts to do it. On average, the "fair price" to cover the electricity seems to be around $0.50 per seti equivalent set. A bargain compared with the $1000+/cpu hour that things used to cost, but I suspect that break even is only going to be on machines whre someone else pickes up the electricity bill.
  • FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK [slashdot.org]
  • I run the Popular Power client on both my home and office computers. PP basically goes after both the greedy and altruistic tendencies in all of us by allowing the user to set whether they want to maximize profit or benefit non-profits more. Nice feature but since there isn't any paying gigs as of yet, currently useless. PP was the featured company in the Wired Magazine article which you can find here [wired.com]. The client keeps statistics of your usage so there's definitely a competitive incentive.

    Basically, I figure "Why not?". I'm not using my home computer while I'm at work, nor my work computer while I'm at home. Given the necessary security measures, it's nice to be of help. I think this will be a technology widely used in the future.

  • There was a thread [slashdot.org] about the problems with open source and hacked clients in an earlier discussion. I'm not sure if it's much help.

  • You're looking at it from the wrong angle here. First, unless you paid the company, you wouldn't be able to distribute a task. Second, the whole point of these things is that they are distributing packets to you, and you get paid for processing those packets. You'd have no idea what you're processing (well, you might, but most likely won't). It's meant for companies who need, say, a movie rendered quickly, they send a different frame to each computer waiting, and it gets done quickly.

    Your whole post doesn't make sense because you either a) didn't read the article, or b) just don't get the concept.

    Not reading .sig
  • If you look at Andover.net's financial disclosure reports, you'll find that Slashdot, which earns revenue through solely ads, is profitable. Therefore the model, if properly executed, can be profitable.
  • That's why, for this to work well, you'll need to arrange for the distributed app code to run in a standard secure 'sandbox'. Doing it in a Java JVM would work, for example. A JVM can easily be set up to limit access to (and hence potential damage to) local system components.
  • the majority of all computation problems AREN'T easily suited for distributed computing

    I can think of one good app - Toy Story 3. unless, of course, Disney is paranoid about sneak previews...

  • Although we're pushing Mojo primarily as a bandwidth and disk space based currency right now we definately hope to see Mojo for CPU cycles software in the future.

    Interested in seeing it sooner? mojonaton [sourceforge.net] is an opensource project.

    The most difficult part (IMHO) of writing a payment for cpu cycles type of system is sandboxing the code so that it can't intentionally or unintentionally do anything evil (ie: it needs to be MUCH more secure than Microsoft Outlook ;).

  • > Does it worry anybody that most of these
    > kind of projects coming down the pipe will
    > be run by corporations that most likely
    > won't release the source to the client
    > software?

    Popular Power [popularpower.com] has committed to open-sourcing our client. (Tim O'Reilly from O'Reilly & Associates is an investor and is on our board of directors; Brian Behlendorf from Collab.net and the Apache Software Foundation is also an investor.)

    Marc Hedlund <marc@popularpower.com>
    CEO, Popular Power

    Give your computer something to dream about.
    www.popularpower.com [popularpower.com]

  • Mojonation [mojonation.net] look like they are ahead of everybody in this game. They are ALREADY paying people for thier HD space / spare CPU cycles.

    From the Mojo website:

    You can sell your idle online resources to others for Mojo (the internal currency), and then can trade Mojo to download content yourself or exchange it for cash after the Beta test is complete. This makes it easy for anyone to start getting Mojo. No paperwork to fill out. No wait. Just start running the software and you can begin earning Mojo as other users buy services from you.

    Community members contribute resources by running one or more services on their computer. Most services can be operated from behind firewalls and with modest Internet connection speeds and can be launched and start earning Mojo for you with a couple clicks of the mouse. Anyone, even those connected by modem, can offset their charges by providing services to the system. Examples of services that users can provide to earn Mojo include:

    • Publishing and storing content for the Mojo Nation data service.
    • Actively caching popular content.
    • Hosting a tracker service to help other users find particular content or resources
    • Providing a relay service, so that users who work behind a firewall or use a client-level anonymizer can operate services.
  • Using the RC5-64 challenge as an example...

    One way to check the security of completed blocks is to have each block also calculate some incidental security check.

    For example, as well as making note of all keys that decrypt to "The secret word is", it could also make note of all keys that decrypt to "The". In each block of 2^32 keys, there should be around 256 which decrpyt to this.

    If a returned block contains (say) 200 or more keys which decrpyt to "The", these can all be checked by repeating the decrpytion of only these 200-or-more keys (which should take milliseconds). If any do not decrypt to "The", then the returned block is definately bogus.

    If all the 200-or-more match, then it's reasonable that the client did it's job properly, since there's no way (in theory) to work out which of the 2^32 keys would result in this decryption, without going through them all one by one, which is exactly the job the client is being paid for.

    The returned block contains below 200 keys, all of which decrpyt to "The" then this returned block may be bogus. It's possible that this key block is a freak where only a few keys decrypt this way, but it's more likely that the client stopped short and retrurned the incomplete block, hacked to look like a completed block.

    As an extra security check, the central server could re-issue a proportion (say 10%) of completed blocks again, to see if other clients give the same result. If two clients return different completed blocks for the same job, then one of them is bogus. You can run the block yourself to find out who.

    Re-issuing will result in a slow-down, so is best used sparingly.

  • This is wonderful for some people, particuarly those of us who do not pay for metered electricity (read: anybody who lives in a dormitory or similar living arrangement). Who cares if you rack up your landlord's electric meter if you don't have to pay the difference?

    I'll be sticking to distributed.net for now, thank you, but I look foreward to being paid, even a little, for doing nothing! :)
  • A slightly different spin on what you have descibed could be spreading these programs as virii. There have already been distributed.net trojans [distributed.net].
  • The article raises lots of interesting points about the commercialism of distributed computing..But I think it somewhat glossed over the fact that there's likely to be many companies unwilling to allow the calculations to be done on 'Joe Public's' computer for security reasons. Even if the clients are theoretically secure, and no person gets enough information to understand what the data or results is, MANY (many, many) companies are so paranoid about their intellectual property that they'll never do this.

    Also, it didn't really get much into the fact that not all problems are particularly well suited to distributed computing. In fact, I'd say the majority of all computation problems AREN'T easily suited for distributed computing. Either because you'd lose the computational benefits due to the overhead of transmitting really large blocks of data or the algorithm is too dependent upon being feed serial data.

  • since i leave my computer running anyways, and the fact that i don't pay for electricity(my landlord does) it really doesn't bother me...
  • ...on to all residents equally.

    thick if you think your (landlord, dorm, etc) isn't going to pass the cost to you.

    It's averaged out into one rent figure that everyone in the apartment/residence hall pays. Think "local phone service in the US" as opposed to "long distance phone service."

    ( \
    XGNOME vs. KDE: the game! [8m.com]
  • I'd let them have my CPU cycles for free if they'd hook me up with free DSL!!! That would be something I would hop onto. My computer wouldn't be much use to them anyway on the current 56K modem that basically gets connected when my wife checks her e-mail. Give me the DSL, I get fast internet access, you get my free clock cycles, everyone wins :-)

    Do not teach Confucius to write Characters
  • Sorry. First instinct was to throw out the old "Can you imagine a beowulf cluster of these"?

    Anyways. Can anyone out there point me to some good books on programming for distributed systems? I know a bit about genetic programming and quite a bit about networking, but I'd like to look over what's been done in the field before paving new ground myself.

  • DCTI [distributed.net] releases the source to its client apps' computing cores; hotshot assembly coders can get their names in lights by submitting a patch against the public-source core-only clients. The official client binaries, OTOH, are considered "trusted binaries" and may in the near future be digitally signed.

    IMHO this is a nice compromise between ESR's open-source ideals and obs^H^H^Hsecurity issues. Why doesn't SETI do this?
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  • Nothing too new in that article save for the commercial aspect, which was arguably inevitable. I'll be more impressed when people start building distributed computing clients into embedded devices that need to be on all the time. Distributed projects aren't about getting fast hardware hooked up, but about getting *huge* numbers of mediocre devices working on little bits of the problem - so things like microwaves and VCRs and even car trip computers could, given a way to connect, out-CPU all the supercomputers in the world. That raises interesting issues of how to pay people back for the use of the electronic gizmos they've bought. Even though I don't always like the leased or licenced (as opposed to owned) approach to buying hardware devices (or software for that matter), it does make a natural fit here, where you could receive a discount on the lease price for the use of a device's spare CPU. Companies that make hardware would probably contract out the actual distributed networking and computing aspects.

    That also leads into the other point, about wasting power and generating heat. Some devices really are intended to stay on 24*7 (whether they always really need to or not), so they may as well be recruited for this. Things like SETI@home, on the other hand, strike me as very wasteful - not only will people leave their power-hogging computer on & awake where they might not otherwise, they'll even stop the monitor from sleeping so they can see the "screen saver" display (and here I thought we'd finally gotten over burning power for useless animation). Wasn't there a /. article a short while back on the burgeoning power demands of all our overfast computers in the years to come?
  • You hit the nail on the head with the last part. If the incentive is good enough, people will install all manner of questionable crap.

    Also, don't count on too much information being released on the clients. Any company who is a client of one of these CPU-for-dollars service will want to believe their data is accurate and that the people running individual clients can't steal the majority of their precious intellectual property.

    Most of the free 'for fame & glory' distributed projects wont even release source code because they are afraid it will cause people to send in garbage data results in an attempt to cheat to get to the top of the list. And putting in some sort of fancy security layer on top of the client to make sure data is valid would likely invalidate most of the gains of a distributed project, because you'd burn tons of cycles on the server trying to do re-validation...

  • ...data to be processed on untrusted computers whose owners could, closed source or not, reverse engineer the software and gain access to presumably valuable information.

    It's a bit harder to reverse-engineer binaries when they're digitally signed and 1024-bit elliptic-curve PK encrypted.

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  • It's not really dictating how we view DVDs.. it's getting paranoid over a player they don't control becouse of a poorly designed format and a great deal of poor planning..

    Yeah thats a scarry thought....
    However it would need to be embraced by avrage users and some technical people...
    The avrage user isn't going to go for being required to have the computer connected to the net for so much time a month...
    This is required if the computer is to be of any use for remote processing.

    In any case I buy my computers in parts and asemble them (No not chip level.. I buy case, mother board etc...)
    Nothing preinstalled this way...
  • DCTI does release the source [distributed.net] for d.net test clients (so that all the hot-shot asm coders can improve the cores), but test clients don't connect to the d.net servers. Only trusted binaries [distributed.net] connect to the servers.
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  • This brings up something I hadn't thought of. If paying for distributed CPU cycles becomes the norm, and every appliance you ever buy eventually has a powerful computer+internet connection, you could feasibly get those appliances for free.
    Imagine walking into your average Best Buy and EVERY applince there is free. Buy(for free) whatever you want, the only condition is that you hook it up and use it. The internet connection will be free and you will never notice the use of the appliance as the computer inside it is horribly wasted anyways.

    No down payment, no monthly fees, all electricity, phone bills, and internet bills paid for. Just make sure its hooked up.

    This sure would keep the economists shaking their heads in agony. :)

  • I've used SETI@Home, and it seemed to work pretty well. I'd like to hear people's opinions who've used services like Paragon (mentioned in the article) and Distributed.net. Before I spend time picking a company and installing their software, I'm interested to hear what other's experiences are.

    Also, has anyone recieved a check from one of these places? Like paid-advertisements while you surf, I'm a little skeptical until I hear people who recieve real checks.

  • ...but not in a FREE SOFTWARE® way. For example, distributed.net releases the source [distributed.net] to its computing cores; asm wizards have optimized the cores to run on AltiVec, 3DNOW!, etc. However, only d.net's trusted binaries connect to the official servers.
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  • by SClitheroe ( 132403 ) on Saturday September 02, 2000 @12:31PM (#808691) Homepage
    Does it worry anybody that most of these kind of projects coming down the pipe will be run by corporations that most likely won't release the source to the client software?

    How will we know with confidence that we're not signing up to be a part of Echelon or Carnivore or something similar?

    I guess if the cash incentive is good enough, it won't matter for most people...
  • How will we know with confidence that we're not signing up to be a part of Echelon or Carnivore or something similar?

    Because no intelligenece agency in its right mind would allow its data to be processed on untrusted computers whose owners could, closed source or not, reverse engineer the software and gain access to presumably valuable information.

  • Anyone who has ever listened to an AM radio placed within 5 feet of their computer can tell you that no matter how fast you work, you are rarely if ever going to be maxxing out your machine's performance. Wether busy or idle, most computers spend the majority of their lives waiting for human interaction -- Not crunching numbers.

    While the idea for large-area distributed computing is cool, of what practical purpose is it? Its not going to help me do the things I do any faster than I would normally. Its not going to help me browse the web any faster, read the daily news any faster, dial out any faster, sell CDs any faster.. The only sort of applications (it seems, perhaps i'm being short-sighted here) that could benefit from this sort of thing are 3D modelling/rendering applications, graphics apps, and scientific applications, all of which require tremendous amounts of computing effort.

    To me, it would probably take more time for my machine to "distribute" a task and reap the result than it would be to perform the task singularly with my own box. Sure, if I had some enourmous image I was doing work on, it might be a good idea.. But for most things, the overhead incurred by distributing the workload over X number of remote machines via the net would be more time-consuming than just doing it locally on a single box with multiple CPUs.

    Mind you, I have nothing against the idea. I think it rules. But i'm at a loss to find any particular mainstream usage for such a technology. Most of us are leaves on a tree, not branches. We're seated at the end of the line when it comes to the life of a particular piece of data.

    By the way, the 1998-2000 PROPAGANDA Image Archive CD is now available. Just click the "Enjoy!" link below for more info.
    Bowie J. Poag
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I would /consider/ signing up for a program like this, provided:

    1) I have full, immediate disclosure about *exactly* what sort of computations and calculations *my* computer is being used for (this is my largest gripe with ProcessTree, and why I *refuse* to sign on with them).

    2) Full source code (for security auditing). I'm not sure yet how this could be used with a system to prevent user fraud (and I understand the desire to distribute only binaries). Perhaps an encryption verification scheme, using PGP or such?... This may be a problem - but I simply do not trust closed binaries running strange unknown processes for mysterious third parties on *my* systems.

    Without these conditions, it is simply **too much** to ask me to compromise for a few extra dollars here and there.
  • Kind of ironic. Just before reading this article, I saw a link in someone's sig about getting paid for unused CPU cycles by ProcessTree. I looked at their site, and they offer you micropayments with either e-gold, an on-line retailer, or will send you a check when you earn enough money. I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on whether or not these are legitimate, whether or not anyone has gotten paid, and how much can one earn using this?
  • I saw Hemos's statement as the cost of leaving a PC on all night and running the client as opposed to shutting at down at night and long periods when no ones going to use it. My machine is off at least 10 hours a day, they'd have to be able to pay that extra ~300 hrs of power and wear and tear before I can see a profit.

  • Sure, that could happen in the near future. Free products with the comittment their processing power will be available for distributed projects. Much like how iOpeners are given away (sold below cost) in exchange for guaranteed ad exposure.

    The difference with the real implementation and your suggestion would be that the utilities side of it would HAVE to be paid for by the consumer. Otherwise it would be more effective to simply build a server farm. The consumers would obviously have to pay for the electricity, but no doubt microsoft would be quick to help cover the hardware costs so long as ths consumers subscribe to msn.

    Hmm.. Let's couple this idea with advertising. Perhaps the future will see refrigerators that are free, but are constantly flashing messages on LCD panels saying "You're low on margarine, HEB has Fleischman's for 98 credits." Undoubtedly, someone will port MAME to the free fridges, someone else will figure out some way to install linux on them, and some AC will ponder the notion of building a beowulf cluster of them.

  • Imagine the the trouble you have to go through as a company to make a monthly or even yearly small payment to a couple of 100 thousand subscribers. Who cares anyway about the 2 dollars a month you might make? The possiblility of winning a big prize every month or week will attract far more people. And of course the more cycles you put in, the better your chances.

    This being said, personally I wouldn't mind giving the cycles away to some medical/charity/... -project. Something like the human genome-mapping seemed very appropriate, wonder why they never started something like SETI@home for that.

  • The cost of running a computer is minimal, so I'm not sure how the cost outweighs the profits. I only pay about 1.00$ american to run my 3 machines per month.

  • Slow down cowboy!

    Slashdot requires you to wait 1 minute between each submission of /comments.pl in order to allow everyone to have a fair chance to post.

    It's been 1 minute since your last submission!

  • Slow down cowboy!

    Slashdot requires you to wait 1 minute between each submission of /comments.pl in order to allow everyone to have a fair chance to post.

    It's been 1 minute since your last submission!


  • My question is, who will be the first sysadmin to get fired for pushing distributed clients on all the corporate workstations without the bosses knowing?

    On the legitimate side of this, the company that is most likely to succeed is the one that markets itself best to corporations. In my limited experience, most corporations just run lame screne savers. If you go to them and explain that they are losing money running screen savers, they will be happy to oblige.

    On the sinister side of this, the distributed processing company that integrates an employee monitoring system into the client and markets that to large corporations will probably do pretty well also.

    You don't have to cover the total cost of the electricity anyway. You just have to cover the difference between the cost of power consumed at idle now, and power consumed running the client. The question then hinges on how well the "power saving idle mode" works on most PCs. Anybody got the numbers?

    Assuming that the numbers make it beneficial for corporations to run the client, the question may then be one of whether or not there is sufficient demand for distributed services. Right now, render farms and weather forcasts are the two obvious commercial applications. I think we're going to have to think of a few more if distributed computing is to become a significant industry.

  • But if *everything* is free, as this idea ultimately projects, what are they advertising?

  • by Duncan3 ( 10537 ) on Saturday September 02, 2000 @02:39PM (#808705) Homepage

    I do wonder with these pay schemes if the payment will actually be enough to cover the cost of electricity. Hurm


    I've been at this for a while *chuckles*... and I'm working on a longer whitepaper, but I'll give slashdot a quick preview.

    The real (hidden) costs:

    • Electricity - min 5-10$/month
    • Server Bandwidth - SETI uses about $22,000/month of taxpayer funded bandwidth last I asked, more by now.
    • User Bandwidth - not everyone has Cable/DSL ya know. Bandwidth isn't that cheap outside the .us.
    • Server and User Hardware - also not free, wear and tear, etc.

    Why no company would ever touch it:

    • Privacy/secret loss - you cannot do distributed computing and not give out your raw data and trade-sercet code. Period.
    • Security - you cannot do anything to prevent bogus results and things from inteligent crackers. Period. If there is money involved, peoelpe will try hard to cheat.

    So you have huge hidden costs, total loss of any capitalist advantage, and huge headaches for the admins. Keep dreaming folks.

  • your toaster or microwave make you watch an ad before you can open it and remove your food

    Can open, worms everywhere:

    So maybe the toaster can tailor the ads to match your food choices? If you put a lot of bread in the toaster, will you be shown ads for jelly? Perhaps something like the supermarket checkout thingies which give you coupons for competing brands. If you're always microwaving Celeste Pizza for One, maybe your microwave will force you to watch an ad for Stouffer's French Bread Pizza?

    And I don't even want to think about what the privacy advocates are going to say about this.

  • Electricity - min 5-10$/month

    Server and User Hardware - also not free, wear and tear, etc.

    "Real" supercomputers have these costs too; if you count them here, you should add them to the cost of "real" supercomputers.

    Server Bandwidth - SETI uses about $22,000/month of taxpayer funded bandwidth last I asked, more by now.

    User Bandwidth - not everyone has Cable/DSL ya know. Bandwidth isn't that cheap outside the .us.

    Asymptotically, bandwidth is cheap. The cost of bandwidth is dropping by a factor of two every 8 months (Gilder's law), while the cost of computing power drops by a factor of two every 18-24 months.

    The bigger issue is latency. Partial pivoting (ie, linpack) *must* have low latency. Many other algorithms also require low latency.

    The big problem is going to be finding algorithms which work even with high latency interconnects.
  • My question is, who will be the first sysadmin to get fired for pushing distributed clients on all the corporate workstations without the bosses knowing?

    Aaron Blosser. Actually he got permission but apparently not from the right people.
  • This is on both the d.net [distributed.net] and SETI [berkeley.edu] FAQ lists. Such clients transfer small (<300 KB) chunks of data during (say) your wife's e-mail check.
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  • At least 10% of the blocks in distributed.net's CSC contest were verification duplicates. Given that each user normally gets at least 100 blocks, 10 invalid results might be enough evidence to detect a tampering problem.
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  • Who wouldn't go see a film they had helped render on their PC!

    People who are boycotting MPAA until it drops the DeCSS suit.

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  • Something like the human genome-mapping seemed very appropriate, wonder why they never started something like SETI@home for that.

    Getting all the pieces of the human genome in the right order obviously requires the pieces. There are gigabytes of pieces, and many users have slow (5 KB per second modem) connections. The final data set is estimated to be 1 GB (3 billion base pairs, three base pairs per code word) in size. They're looking into compressibility of certain sequences.

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  • Of course, you'd run the risk of having your toaster or microwave make you watch an ad before you can open it and remove your food. Perhaps the "premium" appliances would be the ones that allowed you to dismiss these ads, or gave you more control over which tasks ran in the idle processes. The "free" appliances could be the equivalent of today's NadaPC, while the ones that cost money would be more useful and less idiot-proof.

    I'm not sure I like the idea of my refrigerator being a neuron on the Borg collective, though. What if the government were to use the spare cycles to simulate fusion reactions for bomb research? I might have an ethical problem with that...
  • Remember though, if more companies develop under the open source philosophy, then IP becomes a moot point. We don't care who you are or what you know, we just need your computers.

    Even if they are paranoid, eventually they're going to release something. By then, if someone has gone to the trouble of taping together the shreaded document, it'll be too late to do much about it.

    If such a system was used for weather forcasting, by the time any useful information could be extracted from the bits and pieces the information would be days past its usefulness.

    In general, distributed networking will come in handy for someone who needs LOTS of cpu cycles VERY quickly for a VERY short period of time. Other options exist if they have several months to work on it.

  • The question then hinges on how well the "power saving idle mode" works on most PCs. Anybody got the numbers?

    Cuts power consumption by about 10% considering the RAM, the network card, the video card, the audio card, the rest of the chipset, and peripherals such as the monitor, the speakers, the department's printers, etc.

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  • by icqqm ( 132707 ) on Saturday September 02, 2000 @12:49PM (#808724) Homepage Journal
    Frankly, I've always wondered how sites like Google [google.com] manage to do their processing. Serving ads is ok, but for certain sites like /. there's a lot of backend processing that I just don't think ads can cover. Using people's computers sounds like a good idea, but for it to make any economical sense it probably would have to be pretty cheap.

    Needless to say there are some serious security issues here that no doubt won't be properly assessed.

  • by pb ( 1020 ) on Saturday September 02, 2000 @12:49PM (#808725)
    It's cheaper for companies to outsource some projects to another company and have them do the computing however they can than to rent time on a mainframe.

    If you design a cool screensaver to go with it, and make it run on Windows, I'm sure you'll get the support of college students everywhere, even if it beams information back to an evil corporation, does tests on nuclear missle aging, DNA analysis, or hacking your friend's box... They won't know the difference. Of course, it'd be nice to check these things for trojans too.

    Yes, this is an application for Beowulf clusters as well; for massively parallel problems, it might be worth setting up shop in that business instead. I bet IBM does just that, for one, but I'm sure they'd rather sell you a mainframe, where possible... :)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [ncsu.edu].
  • by mmca ( 180858 ) on Saturday September 02, 2000 @12:52PM (#808727) Homepage

    The first distributed computing company to strike up a deal with Tivo, WebTV, and all the other consumer appliances wins.
    Just ship the devices already signed up for the distributed client... how would the user know that the process is running in the background? The app can pick-up/send the work packets when the device calls in to sync (or for webtv when they logon).
    Now that I think about it... how do we know that they aren't already doing this???
    Also in the case of the medical research they can make it a selling point, "Buy Tivo and help cure AIDS."
  • (1) It seems that most posters fail to appreciate that this form of distributing computing is limited to problems which are essentially "trivially parallelizable". Anyone who has done parallel computations knows that MOST interesting parallel algorithms MUST exchange information with other processors while doing useful computation. Both the bandwidth and the latency over the internet will NEVER come close to matching what can be found inside a high-end parallel machine where the processors are all mounted in a single unit. The performance of any "coupled" problem, be it a traffic simulation or a climate model, will be absolutely dog poor on these widely distributed computer networks.

    All said, this is still a very cool concept for SOME projects, like distributed rendering for films, and analysis of vast quantities of data (ala SETI@home). One shouldn't underestimate the marketing value in a distributed rendering project for a film, either! (Who wouldn't go see a film they had helped render on their PC! Especially if one could "preview" the result as it was being rendered.) But I think that this form of distributed computing will tend to be a niche, rander than a general solution for scientists and technologists with parallel computing needs.
  • I guess what I really mean is, who will be the first to get fired for doing it, and have an actual dollar figure attached to the mischief.

  • considering the electricity problems that states like california have been having this summer, would giving people an incentive to leave their computer on all the time actually be detrimental to our safety?

    imagine if all of the AOL newbies out there caught wind of this and decided that they'd all leave their crappy emachines and imacs online all of the time in 30 million household's worldwide. that's alot of energy that is being used up on our already taxed power grids.

    there was actually a great article in the Industry Standard last month that talked about this energy problem. While processing and computerized applicances keep on growing in popularity, the whole internet infrastructure is built upon the assumption that we have a virtually unlimited source of electricity. Truth is that this summer California hit 95% total capacity. They were 2% away from having rolling brownouts. Some electric companies have even started PAYING their large corporate customers to take days off and to shut down their power supplies so that these electric companies can keep electricity flowing to the general public without causing safety risks.

    While distributed computing might be a very kewl idea and concept, there comes a point when we need to fix the base limitation of the computerized world and that's the power grid.
  • by isomeme ( 177414 ) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Saturday September 02, 2000 @12:56PM (#808743) Homepage Journal
    ...but I do wonder with these pay schemes if the payment will actually be enough to cover the cost of electricity.

    The thing is, any revenue from idle time beats what you get if you just let the cpu burn cycles. Hopefully, if this gets to be a successful business model, the price will get bid up; but a box generating a buck a month off idle time is still (a little bit) more profitable than one that isn't.

  • by Hard_Core_Nerdity ( 185379 ) on Saturday September 02, 2000 @12:56PM (#808744)
    As soon as one company starts giving away money to anyone with spare CPU power, many others companies with similar claims will spring up overnight. Soon there will be so many that people will begin mass mailing viruses or spying programs disguised as programs that pay you. Most people would say that if someone is dumb enough to open attachments in mail from someone thay do not know, they deserve to be spied on and have their important files or even their entire hard drive erased, but this might end up killing the good programs.

I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos. -- Albert Einstein, on the randomness of quantum mechanics