Exa-Scale Volunteer Computing


August 11, 2008


David P. Anderson


U.C. Berkeley, Space Sciences Lab


Peta-scale, the Holy Grail of high-performance computing, is now reality.
Sustained PetaFLOPS throughput was first achieved not by supercomputers, clusters, grids, or clouds, but by volunteers. This milestone was reached by Folding@home using 40,000 Sony PS3 game consoles, and more recently by BOINC using 600,000 general-purposes computers.

But the story doesn’t end there. Volunteer computing offers a plausible near-term path to the next multiple of 1000: Exa-scale. This path involves high-performance processors such as GPUs, Cells, and multi-core CPUs, and perhaps the slower but more energy-efficient processors in mobile devices and appliances.

Perhaps equally significantly, volunteer computing undermines the established mechanisms by which computational resources are divided among scientists. And, by involving the public in the scientific process, it promotes scientific awareness, interest, and knowledge.


David P. Anderson

Dr. David P. Anderson received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1985. He taught in the Computer Science department at U.C. Berkeley, worked at several startups, then returned to U.C. Berkeley as a Research Scientist. His work focuses on “citizen cyber-science”: using the Internet to involve the global public in scientific research. He leads the BOINC project, which develops widely-used middleware for volunteer computing, and he is also involved in creating new technology for distributed thinking and web-based education.