A Scality engineering team is using computing power for good with Folding@home, a distributed computing project searching for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Participation was born partly out of frustration.
“We’re computer engineers, we can’t do jack about the COVID pandemic,” says Aurélien Gelbart, customer solutions engineer, who joined efforts kickstarted by team member Franck Horlaville. “Running our computers to help scientists is the least we can do. It’s really the only part we can play, so let’s play it.”
The idea of using volunteer computing power became popular with SETI@home and its quest for intelligent life beyond earth. Folding@home uses the same concept by harnessing citizen scientists to dive deep into cell biology. Folding refers to how human protein assembles in the cells that make up the human body. When they misfold, there can be serious consequences to a person’s health.
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Over the 20-year life of the project, Folding@home has taken the idle processing power of laptops, PlayStation 3s and smartphones to push forward research on cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Ebola.
Now it has COVID-19 in its sights. Researchers are focusing their attention on its genome and the 27 proteins that it is known to produce, seeking to deepen their understanding and find ways to stop it in its tracks.
“Each simulation you run is like buying a lottery ticket. The more tickets we buy, the better our chances of hitting the jackpot,” organizers say. “Usually, your computer will never be idle, but we’ve had such an enthusiastic response to our COVID-19 work that you will see some intermittent downtime as we sprint to set up more simulations.”
All data is made publicly available to further as many research teams as possible. Partners on the COVID-19 project include Nvidia, PCMR, Github, Razer, Intel, Ubisoft and research teams on the Folding@home Consortium.
Interest in the project surged along with the pandemic, making Folding@home one of the world’s fastest computing systems. The system hit a speed of approximately 1.22 exaFLOPS by late March 2020, reaching 2.43 x86 exaFLOPS in April 12, 2020.
The 36 members of Scality folding team rank now around position 830 worldwide ahead of teams with big-sounding names like teamTesla, Lockheed Martin, and Shopify. There are no losers here; the world wins by powering science in search of a cure.
Check out how you can get involved here.