• United States

United Devices looks for smallpox cure with Defense Department

Feb 05, 20033 mins
Computers and PeripheralsEnterprise ApplicationsIBM

The Department of Defense has turned to grid computing specialist United Devices for a new project that will help scientists search for a cure for the smallpox virus, according to a Wednesday announcement.

The Department of Defense has turned to grid computing specialist United Devices for a new project that will help scientists search for a cure for the smallpox virus, according to a Wednesday announcement.

The Defense Department and IBM have funded the project, which will link millions of computers together to form a kind of decentralized supercomputer. The organizations are looking for both businesses and individuals to donate their computer’s idle time to the protein analysis that is the thrust of the project, said Michael R. Nelson, director of Internet technology and strategy at IBM.

The groups hope to find a cure for smallpox that will be used after a person has been infected by the virus, as opposed to a vaccine against the virus, which already exists.

“United Devices has already recruited millions of people to donate their compute cycles,” Nelson said. “We are really showing that you can solve real world problems with our technology.”

United Devices, in Austin, Texas, has created a large Web or grid of computers by asking users to download a small program that will be used to send out research problems and then return the data to United Devices, and eventually to the Defense Department. This process allows researchers to tap into spare processing power from the vast number of PCs and servers that sit idle for much of the day. It also helps divvy up workloads among a number of systems, which means the research can be done faster, Nelson said.

United Devices has already completed a similar project for the Defense Department in which the company used the grid computing method for anthrax research. In addition, the company uses its grid for cancer research. United Devices plans to give people the option of using their PC for either cancer research, smallpox research or both, according to a company spokeswoman.

IBM has donated servers, storage systems and software to help the project along. The company’s DB2 database also sits at the heart of United Devices’ Global MetaProcessor Platform, which is used for the grid efforts.

Researchers at Oxford and Essex Universities in the U.K. and smallpox experts at the Robarts Research Institute, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and The University of Western Ontario will be able to use the compute power to identify new anti-viral drugs.

Results from the Smallpox Research Grid Project will be delivered to the Defense Department’s Office of the Secretary of Defense, Nelson said.

Users who want to participate in the project can download the screensaver used to set up the grid from