Tuesday, December 19, 2006

BOINC Conference Summary

Here is a "brief" summary of the BOINC conference that was held online, December 18th. It took place over Skype with people from all over the world. At times the connections were a little week (at least on my end), but it was a very worthwhile couple of hours.

This comes from my quickly scribbled notes. Nothing is a direct quote (unless my hand and memory got lucky) and I am sure there are many errors. I may have even missed a question or two.

If you want the definitive source, get the mp3. It should be available shortly from the BOINC UK site.

The questions mostly broke down into two basic categories. Those about BOINC in general and those specifically related to SETI@home.

General Question
If you had one wish what would it be?

BOINC Questions
With all of the optimized BOINC clients available why do we still need the "vanilla" client?
How can we resolve issues with large workunits?
Have you considered subteams or a way to give users more visibility?
What scalability issues are there as the number of projects continues to grow?
What is the status of using GPUs for computation?
Question about clients and credits.
What do you see as the relationship between BOINC and the media?
What about sandboxing?

SETI@home Questions
What is the status of the Southern Hemisphere data recorder?
What does a data recorder cost?
What it the likelihood of Arecibo shutting down?
What is the status of optical SETI work?
What percentage of stars have been listened to?
What about picking up leakage of TV, radio, and other broadcasts?
What is the projected rollout date for astropulse?
What about VLA data?

Q. With all of the optimized BOINC clients available why do we still need the "vanilla" client?

A. The optimized client was a kludge for the older version of SETI so that users would get the "correct" amount of credit. Now that SETI has moved to flops based computation there is no need for the optimized client.

Now, if you are actually talking about optimized applications (projects) as opposed to the BOINC client software that coordinates fetching workunits and running the projects on your local machine, they help. But, the issue is that there are two many distinct architectures and sub-architectures to properly test all of them.

Q. Due to the size of the Climate Prediction work units, many users simply crash and are never heard from again. How can we resolve this? Perhaps with popups and other messages? --- Mo (Maureen?)

A. We support trickle messages that can update the user as they continue to work on very large work units. Climate Prediction could do a bit of work to provide screensaver updates through using these trickle messages.

While some would like popup messages that let them know when something goes awry or needs attention, others would see this as intrusive. --- Dr. David Anderson

Q. What is the status of the Southern Hemisphere data recorder for SETI at the Parkes Observatory? --- Mark (Ohio, USA)

A. With the threatened shut down of the Arecibo telescope in 5 years we have to focus there and consider the possible transfer of equipment after that. --- Dr. Eric Korpela

Q2. What does a recorder cost? --- Mike

A2. It depends upon the donations of equipment, but even with the donations received, the original recorder cost around $300,000 (US). --- Eric

Q3. What is the likelihood of Arecibo shutting down? --- Mike

A3. The problem is that there are no congressmen with voting power for Arecibo. It is in Puerto Rico and this is really a political financial decision. --- Eric

Q. What about Optical SETI work? --- Tiare (Chile)

A. The optical work we are doing is relatively primitive compared to the radio work. It would be highly unlikely for each of our three sensors to receive a flash, although it has been guessed that a laser pulse directed at us from extraterrestrial sources could give a pulse at all three wavelengths. --- Eric

Q. If you had one wish what would it be?

A. Something indistinct about Microsoft. --- David
Better hardware --- ???
A verifiable contact --- Eric
Accurate benchmarking --- David

Q. Have you considered subgroups within teams so that users would have a better chance of seeing themselves showing up on a top 10?

A. We thought that if the servers generated sufficiently refined lists based upon data available to them that this would happen automatically. So far, it has not.

Q. What percentage of stars have been listened to? --- John (USA)

A. Arecibo has had pretty good coverage, but it only sees about 25% of the sky. Multi-beam is 30%(?) more sensitive and allows us to listen to sources that are 5 times more distant. We have also done some targeting with high bandwidth, but it is a tradeoff, bandwidth vs. coverage. We can listen to a lot on a few frequencies, or listen to a few things on a lot of frequencies.

When you look at all three, bandwidth, distances and sky coverage, we have had relatively little overall coverage. --- Eric

Q. What about picking up leakage of TV, radio, and other broadcasts?

A. Omnidirectional signals like those do not go very far. Even with a directed beam we can only reach about 50(?) lightyears with broadcasts of our own, say from Arecibo.

Q. It seems the number of projects is growing rapidly. What are the limitations of BOINC as this continues? --- Maureen

A. Since the BOINC project does not supply centralized servers,there are really no limits with respect to that. It is more a problem in terms of project discovery. BOINC account managers are one solution to that problem. BOINC mutual funds may be another.

BOINC mutual funds would be where an individual could say they are interested in computing for cancer research, but they don't want to have to keep track of cancer research projects as they come and go, so they subscribe to a "cancer research mutual fund" that would keep track of these things for them. Essentially this would be using intermediaries like the American Cancer Society to keep track of these things. --- David

Q. ATI has expressed interest in working with BOINC on producing GPU accelerated interfaces and Folding@Home has had success with a similar initiative. What is the status or progress in this area? --- Ron (Missouri, USA)

A. We tried doing some work with the NVIDIA GPUs but the architecture was not really conducive to integrating with them. It is our understanding that ATI may have a more accessible architecture, but so far no projects have bit on the offer to work with them.

We are looking at using the Cell Processor in the PlayStation® 3. It may be much better. It is several times faster than a GPU and about 50x faster than a standard processor. It also give much better computational power per Watt of electricity making it more environmentally friendly. --- David

I have not given up on GPUs. If there are any GPU programmers out there that are interesting in helping out on SETI@home, I would be very interested to hear from them. --- Eric

Q. Indistinct --- Tiare (Chile)

A. We have created a new simple GUI in cooperation with the Community Grid. It will make the BOINC client skinnable. We are also looking at a unified credit system that would allow us to grant credit for donated storage space as well as for donated CPU time. We would like to retain a single credit scoring system. But, benchmarking this is difficult. --- David

Q. What is the projected rollout date for AstroPulse? --- Derek (Guam)

AstroPulse is a long promised set of work units for SETI@home. According to a previous interview there had been a grad. student that was supposed to be working on it, but he found it more interesting to work on other things, so the effort that was put forth never came to fruition.

A. We have a new grad. student working on it. Hopefully it will be in beta next month or so. That would be nice, since he will have some time off of class then. --- Eric

Q. When the BBC did its documentary on Climate Prediction.Net it greatly enhanced the participation in the project. What do you see as the relationship between BOINC and the media? --- Maureen

A. Media coverage helps greatly. But many of those participants did not stick around long, for reasons we've already discussed. --- David

Q. Indistinct question about Sandboxing? --- Ian

A. We are using user-account based sandboxing and we recommend that the application runs as a limited user. We have this setup on the Mac already. It works with a little help on Linux as well. The problem (as usual) is Windows. Although we expect to have a Windows version of sandboxing available in about 2-3 month. --- David

Q. Something about VLA usage? --- Derek (Guam)

A. None currently. Allen(?) telescope is expanding to 45 dishes. [Garbled] needs more dishes, less than 45 does not provide what we need. Originally [garbled] was supposed to have around 200 telescopes, but due to cutbacks this has not happened. --- Eric

Well that's all I have from my notes, and a little memory thrown in.

I'd like to thank Mike and all those that arranged the conference and David and Eric for taking time out to answer our questions.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Excellent - thank you Ron. A great amount of additional information to the mp3 that will be released shortly.