- October 15, 2008
- Mark Roberts, Mark McAndrew, Paul McAndrew
- Big Data, Bitcoin, Cloud Computing, Internet, World Domination
- The crowd computer. Uses surplus capacity of 1000s of home PCs to create the world's cheapest, greenest and most ethical computing platform.
Based on the proven idea of volunteer computing, Charity Engine harnesses the vast, wasted capacity of the world's home and office PCs - a technically simple feat, but one which requires the permission of the world's PC owners first.
The Charity Engine app gains that permission by converting the donated computing into real money for top international charities - and also, every so often, a substantial cash prize for one lucky volunteer. Profits are shared equally between Charity Engine, the users and the charities. (Companies can also choose to share the profits from their PCs instead of being in the prize draws.)
The Charity Engine grid currently has over 20,000 PCs in over 100 countries, and is as powerful as a top 5 supercomputer.
As Charity Engine has the public support of our international charity partners (and others pending), it should easily become the world's most popular volunteer grid - in effect, the first worldwide computer - capable of utterly transforming scientific research and industrial productivity. (Just 0.5% of the Internet is more powerful than every supercomputer on Earth combined. It is truly in a class of its own.)
Making It Happen
Charity Engine is based on Berkeley University's BOINC, the de facto industry standard software for volunteer computing. BOINC is mature, reliable and supports dozens of applications including AutoDock and Blender. It has been used by millions of home PCs for nearly ten years without any security issues. It is also 100% open-source.
The director of BOINC, Prof David Anderson, was our full-time technical consultant for six months. Matt Blumberg and his expert team (GridRepublic, Progress Thru Processors) designed and coded the site, which launched as a private beta on 31 July 2011, as announced on stage at TNW 2011. Now live.
Making It Valuable
Obviously, the business must have a revenue stream to generate the charity donations and prize fund. This comes from science and industry renting processing time on the 'global grid' for an incredibly cheap rate; just 1-3 cents per average CPU core/hour or 2c-4c per GPU/hr.
As it normally costs more than 1c/hr just to power a CPU core, Charity Engine can effectively provide cloud computing for 'below cost' yet still make money. It is the world's cheapest computing platform by an order of magnitude.
Other valuable uses include ultra-secure storage, distributed web-indexing, web diagnostics, penetration testing, cryptography, the Charity Engine-branded distributed CDN and sponsorship.
By monetizing the model, Charity Engine completely solves the one problem that prevents most researchers from using volunteer computing: the risk of not finding enough volunteers. Not every project can capture the public's imagination, and scientists have better things to do than create advertising campaigns. For the first time, the surplus computing resources of the Internet can be bought and paid for, by anyone. It is the ultimate supercomputer for hire.
The Unexpected Bonus
Not only is Charity Engine the cheapest and potentially most powerful computing platform in the world, it is also the most environmentally friendly.
For a start, it requires no new hardware. That's half the energy costs of any new system.
Nor does it require vast new billion-dollar facilities to house it, staffed and air-conditioned. In fact, it needs virtually no net cooling at all.
Unlike datacentres and supercomputers, we don't stress the components (our volunteer's PCs). A typical laptop CPU can cruise at 60% activity for just another 4-10Watts compared to idling, so that is our default setting.
No excessive heat, no noisy fans, no surprise bills - and the grid effectively gains ~60% of a full-power CPU for less energy than charging a smartphone. This is the key to Charity Engine's incredible efficiency: using machines which already exist and are already switched on.
GPUs do use more power to run Charity Engine (+30W, on average), but they are actually even more efficient than CPUs.
We can then reduce carbon costs even further by using a technique we're calling the 'Winternet' - something that only a global grid can do.
Supercomputers and data-centres have one problem they cannot escape: megawatts of heat. Fortunately for us, it's always cold somewhere - and everywhere is cooler at night. Charity Engine will therefore keep shifting data to the globe's coldest PCs, where the extra heat is actually a welcome bonus and not just wasted on air conditioning. It really can be the greenest supercomputer on the planet.
Especially now that our Android app is nearly finished...
Leave No Science Behind
There will always be worthy projects with huge computing needs but no money (just like most existing BOINC networks), so 5%-10% of the Charity Engine grid will be permanently reserved for "pure, poor science" and overseen by an independent advisory board. The first three members of the board are Prof David Anderson, Prof Stephen Wolfram and Dr Ethan Siegel, noted experts in computing, mathematics and astrophysics respectively. Fundamental physics, molecular biology, materials science, genetics and other key areas will also be well-represented.
Finally, Charity Engine has given all our charity partners the power of veto regarding who we do business with. No unethical research will ever be allowed to use the worldwide computer.
Mark McAndrew, CEO
Current Team (8)Update
Board Members and Advisors (6)Update
Manchester, M1 2AP