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Distributed computing can take many forms, but perhaps its most powerful use involves connecting many computers to form a grid. A grid is a group of networked computers that work together to perform a very large and complex task. Rather than having expensive dedicated computers, grids put home and business PCs to work during the time that they would normally be idle. With thousands or even millions of computers working together, the computational power is extraordinary.A good introduction to distributed computing can be found at DCcentral (1). The site is perfect for inexperienced people and is very easy to understand. There is an interactive glossary and a couple fun games that demonstrate the concepts. The Worldwide Computer (2) is an article from a recent issue of Scientific American. The authors present some amazing scenarios that could be realized with an Internet-scale operating system (ISOS). Although a true ISOS has not yet been implemented, imagine getting paid for work that your computer does in its spare time! Distributed computing is also being used to address a more immediate concern -- anthrax (3). A project organized by British researchers has compiled a list of about 300,000 potential drugs that could cure an anthrax infection, with about 12,000 of them as strong candidates. The Globus Project (4) is an organization that "provides software tools that make it easier to build computational grids and grid-based applications." The tools are open source and can be freely downloaded from their Web site. Many companies use the Globus software to solve problems in areas such as security, fault detection, communication, and portability. Distributed.net (5) has a lot of interesting facts about the project's various distributed computing challenges in which it has participated. The history section is especially noteworthy, as it shows how the time needed to complete a task can dramatically be reduced as more computers are used. The European Union is funding the DataGrid Project (6), which allows next-generation scientific research that requires intensive computation. The project is led by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Some of CERN's test facilities produce more scientific data than can be analyzed by conventional computing techniques, and this was one of the motivations for the DataGrid Project. If you would like to participate in a distributed computing project, there are two sites that provide free software. The first is Compute Against Cancer (7), whose Pioneer utility uses your computer to find new insights into cancer treatment and diagnosis. The second site is similar, except AIDS is the target (8).
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