Distributed computing (also known as Grid computing or utility computing) is the concept of splitting computer hardware and software systems into separate units that are centrally controlled. This often takes the form of multiple separate computers connected to a central server using Ethernet or faster technology. The main goal is to connect users and resources in a transparent, open, and scalable way which makes for a more powerful computing system; such systems are commonly used in altruistic and philanthropic research.
Distributed computing is dependent on several distinct concepts. Pluralism ensures that each individual computer system in the distributed network is autonomous and self-checking. Indeterminacy means that different computers on the network can go on and offline without affecting the integrity of the network itself. Openness is also an important part of distributed
computing because of the close interactivity of dissimilar systems but is less important in university and corporate research facilities.
Distributed computing communicates and coordinates work among separate computers (called 'nodes') using a "database-centric" architecture. This allows work to be done without any communication between computer nodes because they each utilize a shared database.
A cluster consists of multiple stand-alone machines acting in parallel across a local high speed network. Distributed computing differs fromcluster computing in that computers in a distributed computing environment are typically not exclusively running "group" tasks, whereas clustered
computers are usually much more tightly coupled. Distributed computing also often consists of machines which are widely separated geographically.
A grid uses the resources of many separate computers, loosely connected by a network (usually the Internet), to solve large-scale computation problems. Public grids may use idle time on many thousands of computers throughout the world. Such arrangements permit handling of data that would otherwise require the power of expensive supercomputers or would have been
impossible to analyze.
A variety of distributed computing projects have grown up in recent years. Many are run on a volunteer basis, and involve users donating their unused computational power to work on interesting computational problems. Some common uses include 3D medical imaging devices and mobile radar, as well as protein folding, human genome, HIV, dengue, muscular dystrophy, and
cancer research. Examples of such projects include:
Folding@home project (Stanford University Chemistry Department) - simulations to find disease cures and to understand biophysical systems
World Community Grid (IBM) - tackles scientific research projects that benefits humanity
SETI@home - analyzes radio-telescope data to find evidence of intelligent signals from space
BOINC - (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing)
OurGrid - a free-to-join peer-to-peer grid provided by the idle resources of all participants
LHC@home - helps design and tune the Large Hadron Collider, hosted by CERN in Geneva
distributed.net - finds optimal Golomb rulers and breaks various cryptographic ciphers
Clean Energy Project - helps advance solar energy development
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