Simulations for my dissertation were running the entire time I was off traveling. It’s a variation of webworld, for modeling the effect of evolution on the structure of ecosystems. This simulation methodically tested variations in the original model, concerning the rate of species mutation. The model is stochastic, so by repeating the experiment numerous times, the hope is to derive some statistic trends. This is similar to the methodology of “real” biological research; for evolution and ecosystems, it is eons faster on a computer.
But it’s not that fast. Ideally this sim would run about 10 times more. And I’m wishing for access to a cluster or supercomputer; no chance right now.
For accessing this level of computing power, a distributed network would be great. Again, the problem is access, but in a different way. Distributed computing, like SETI@Home, Folding@Home, etc@Home, depends on attention and excitement of the contributers. It also requires specialized programming and trust that the program is safe and not resource intensive (this isn’t always done well either).
Ok, there’s many distributed computing platforms, which probably solve some of the technical problems. But how to get participation? Usually, these are probably deployed within a company or department. What if your network is much looser (say the Blogosphere) or even other people who also have a need for big computing power.
These platforms need extension, to incorporate commerce and reputation. The distributed network would be made up of people, who themselves have occasional needs for this scale of computing. Access to the power of the network could be granted in two fashions. One, you could purchase computing time from other users. Offer some rate per some number of instructions, rather than computing time which would be highly variable. Two, by offering background computing on your system over the long term, you can then gain access to the network for an intense, short term. Or potentially, some combination of money and reputation could be offered.
This is too large a request for LazyWeb. I’m not ready to even start building something like this — but I do wish is just existed.