Manager for BOINC Distributed Computing Projects

For those who know not what BOINC is, here's a quick run-down. BOINC is a suite of software developed at University of California, Berkeley, designed to support a multitude of distributed computing projects. In short, this provides a way for any computer user to run software (using "spare" CPU cycles) to support a variety of scientific, medical and mathematical research projects. It's a way of helping researchers tap into a virtual supercomputer comprised of hundreds of thousands of personal computers around the world.

BOINC began with one project, the SETI@Home program, looking for radio signals from other stars to support the hypothesis of intelligent alien life. The Search For ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence was soon joined by other distributed computing projects such as Folding@Home (looking for the ways in which proteins fold), World Community Grid (which supports a variety of humanistic and medical programs, which I support with my computer), and dozens of others from biochemical and drug research to finding special prime numbers.

So what about the Account Manager?

One of the problems that quickly became clear was that as more BOINC projects became available, and the more of them one ran, the more management they needed. Each project can have its own priority setting, which enables the user to give higher priority to certain programs. For instance, I support about ten projects, and to change the settings on them would mean logging into each site separately, tweaking the settings and then going to the next, and so on. I prefer to give priority to projects that support human medical research, especially cancer-related programs. The more projects, the more complex, time-consuming, and ultimately the more frustrating. As time went on, the more wailing and gnashing of teeth there was among a growing number of BOINC users. Some people wanted to be able to run different projects on different machines, adding yet another shirt-tearing level of complexity. Others simply wanted one point of contact to manage and view their various undertakings.

Enter a chap named Willy de Zutter, from Holland, in November 2005. He realised that increasingly, people were losing track not only of the settings of current projects, but needed an easier, more straightforward method of connecting to new programs. He already ran a website called BoincStats that enabled users to track the statistics from all the work they (or rather, their computers) were doing. In his own words, "I wanted to offer visitors of BOINCstats a page where they could create an account for themselves at one or more projects". He created a page that enabled easier management of existing accounts, effectively giving users the ability to create a unifying account, thus enabling them to manage various different distributed computing accounts from one place.

Discussions with Rytis Slatkevičius of PrimeGrid (a project searching for exotic prime numbers) resulted in a seperate application, the BOINC Account Manager (or BAM! as it is affectionately known). By the end of December 2005, they began a limited beta test with 100 people, and the process of finding and annihilating bugs began.

Bugs there were, and plenty of them. Patiently Willy and the team tracked them down, and patiently the volunteers co-operated and stood by the fledgling program. Slowly, the fledgling BAM! took wing, and as it became more stable, the decision was made to have a public beta test, with 200 volunteers. On 10th May the announcement was made, and by the end of the day, all two hundred positions were filled. By the end of the month, everything was stable and was opened to everyone. Since then it's gone from strength to strength, with over 67,000 users and 123,000 host computers at the time of writing.

BAM! can now connect you to projects, enable you to manage them and give an interface through the BOINC client to assist in managing things on each computer. Through the website, you may join projects with just a couple of clicks, change account details for all projects from one point, change resource shares, create or join a team, get updates by text message and synchronise retired projects. Willy puts no restrictions on who can use BAM! and over the yers has added many features to the software including forum support. As it integrates with the BOINC client it's the very best solution for anyone who is interested in supporting global distributed computing, whether searching for ET, prime numbers or a cure for cancer.

Final note: I run BOINC, use BAM! and am currently recruiting users of Everything2 to join me in the usergroup BOINCers and in the noder teams attached to many of the projects. Let me know if you're interested!

Source: taken from an e-mail interview with Willy de Zutter
BOINCStats website
BAM! website

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