Brazilian boffins have developed a peer-to-peer grid computing system called OurGrid, which enables members to freely donate and use spare compute cycles.
Now stable, the open source software been picked up by SegHidro, a government-backed research project in north-west Brazil which is using compute power from OurGrid for tasks such as simulating and managing reservoirs and water-distribution networks, plus weather and climate forecasting.
OurGrid was co-developed by HP Labs and Brazil's UFCG (Federal University of Campina Grande). Although most OurGrid peers are still local, it has begun spreading outside Brazil, with users in other countries downloading the client software and joining as peers, according to HP Labs researcher Miranda Mowbray.
She said that while the consumers of OurGrid power pay nothing, the system includes a resource allocation mechanism which works like an exchange of favours. It resembles a BitTorrent for grid computing, with spare capacity going into a pool for any user - including yourself - to draw upon.
"A P2P grid is a good way of describing it," she added. "The donation of your spare computing power happens automatically when you join. Joining OurGrid is a much simpler process than joining traditional grids and doesn't require any negotiations with human beings about your use of OurGrid's resources."
As with other grids, OurGrid power can be used for what Mowbray calls "bag-of-tasks applications, meaning applications consisting of a large number of tasks that can be performed independently without communication between the tasks."
The full client is only for Linux, though there is a Windows client that can take on work as long as there's a Linux peer in the same domain. Like other P2P apps, individual peers don't have any control over where their spare cycles go, which Mowbray said makes the system more flexible than volunteer-oriented alternatives such as BOINC.
"The disadvantage of a BOINC-type volunteer computing system is that in practice it can only be used to obtain compute power for projects with a widespread public appeal, and it may be necessary to do publicity and promotion to persuade BOINC users to volunteer their idle cycles to your particular project," she explained.
"In contrast, you can use computing power from OurGrid to run any bag-of-tasks application that you like, including ones that benefit only you. There is some discrimination by the OurGrid software over who gets to use your PC in the sense that if there is contention for your idle resources the resource scheduling algorithm gives priority to other OurGrid users who in the past have donated resources to you."
So what is HP doing, helping develop P2P grid software that's then released as open source? Mowbray says it's not just altruism.
"What HP gets out of it is cutting-edge research in this type of system, which can be applied in commercial applications," she adds. "For example, a resource allocation mechanism based on the one developed for OurGrid has been used in a trial by HP for a commercial rendering service for makers of animated films. HP Labs has also used OurGrid as a source of compute power for research problems." ®