Sun Microsystems has agreed to fund the next generation of Seti@home, the University of California's distributed computing project that allows computer users donate unused processor cycles to aid the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Since 1999, Seti@home allows computer users to download a screensaver that can automatically download, analyse and resend data units collected from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The Seti@home project has so far cost $500,000, but on a daily basis it provides the equivalent of 15 TeraFLOPS (million billion floating point operations per second) -- more raw computing power than a $110m IBM ASCI White system, rated at 12 teraflops.
Sun will be funding the second generation of Seti@home, which will fit into a new platform called Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC). This aims to open the doors to cheap shared computing to a diverse range of academic computing projects, including the search for aliens. This also means participants will be able to share their computing resources between different projects.
Dr David P. Anderson, director of Seti@home and BOINC, said public computing projects have been very effective for applications that need lots of computing power: "These applications exist in many areas of science. It's a great way to get people involved in science, not just as bystanders but as participants," he said.
Joerg Schwarz, group manager for global education and research at Sun, said: "The future of supercomputing belongs to open architectures and public computing -- thanks to public computing, the world's computer users can also play a part in advancing academic research in other areas of study."
Seti@home already uses more than ten of Sun's enterprise servers and 70 workstations, running Solaris.
A beta version of BOINC is available for free from the BOINC Web site at Berkeley.