Friday, March 12, 2010

ASIA@home satellite event in Beijing

On Monday, three of the ISGC participants headed north to Beijing for a special satellite event there.

It used to be that to get from Taipei to Beijing you had to transit via Hong Kong, and the trip would take most of a day. But since 2008, there are direct flights between the two cities, so the trip takes just three hours. In fact, there is a great deal of collaboration between researchers in Taiwan and on the mainland. As is often the case, scientific exchange has helped pave the way for better political relations.

In that spirit, we held a satellite Asia@Home event on Tuesday at the Institute of High Energy Physics, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Dubbed CAS@Home, this was a follow-up on an Asia@home seminar held nearly a year ago in Beijing, as another ISGC satellite event, which was designed to stimulate interest in CAS for volunteer computing and BOINC.

Derrick Kondo (INRIA) and Daniel Lombraña González (U. Extremadura) kicked off the session with two introductory talks in an open session, and then we moved to a smaller venue for the real master class session. There, several researchers from different institutes of CAS as well as from Tsinghua University presented projects that they may want to adapt to volunteer computing.

There were over 20 participants, and ideas ranged from using graphical processor units to speed up high energy physics calculations (Niklaus Berger of IHEP showed some very promising results for this), as well as some biotech and nanotech applications, and even an interesting proposal to use volunteer computing to automatically extract semantic and ontological information from Chinese texts, from Zhao Juan of the Chinese Computer Network Centre.

In the afternoon, Daniel led a hands-on session in how to install both the BOINC client and BOINC server software, with an example of a molecular dynamics code for nanotech research supplied by researchers from Tsinghua University. Daniel showed how you can get a project going in less than an hour. If you are Daniel, of course!

Ben Segal from CERN joined by skype video to talk about CERNVM - the virtual machine initiative for physics computing - and combining it with BOINC. This is of interest for high energy physicists in Beijing, where the BESIII detector is producing a lot of data these days. Derrick Kondo wrapped up with a tutorial on how to install a BOINC server on the Amazon EC2 cloud - very easy provided you have a credit card :)

There was considerable interest in Daniel's Jarifa project in Extremadura, as a way to manage volunteer computing within an institution. Deploying volunteer computing within CAS institutions, of which there are over 113 throughout China, seems a promising way to better exploit the significant idle resources in desktops and laptops that belong to such institutions.

After all, not all research needs the tens of thousands of volunteer processors that keep projects like Einstein@Home and chugging along. And campus grids using idle desktop resources could also be a good way to reduce the workload on central computing resources, providing savings for each institution.

Chinese hospitality is always great, north or south, and the master class ended with a delicious dinner for some of the participants and teachers. You can see them here. I don't have a fancy panoramic camera like some of my co-bloggers on this GridCast, so this 360 video was taken using a very advanced technology: place your video camera on the centre of the rotating tables that are used in Chinese restaurants to share the food... and turn!

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