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Sun fuels cosmic research

The company invests in the next generation of SETI@Home, a distributed computing project that aims to open the doors to inexpensive, shared computing--and extraterrestrial intelligence.

Sun Microsystems has agreed to fund the next generation of SETI@Home, the University of California's distributed computing project that lets computer users donate unused processor cycles to aid the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Since 1999, SETI@Home has allowed computer users to download a screensaver that can automatically download, analyze and resend data units collected from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.


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The SETI@Home project has so far cost $500,000, but on a daily basis it provides the equivalent of 15 teraflops--more raw computing power than the $110 million IBM ASCI White system, rated at 12 teraflops. A teraflop is a measure of a computer's speed, which can be expressed as1 trillion floating point operations per second.

Sun will be funding the second generation of SETI@Home, which will fit into a new technology called Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC). This aims to open the doors to inexpensive, shared computing to a diverse range of academic computing projects, including the search for aliens. This also means participants will be able to share their computing resources among different projects.

David P. Anderson, director of SETI@Home and BOINC, said public computing projects have been very effective for applications that need lots of computing power. "These applications exist in many areas of science. It's a great way to get people involved in science, not just as bystanders but as participants," he said.

Joerg Schwarz, group manager for global education and research at Sun, said that the future of supercomputing "belongs to open architectures and public computing. Thanks to public computing, the world's computer users can also play a part in advancing academic research in other areas of study."

SETI@Home already uses more than 10 of Sun's enterprise servers and 70 workstations, running Solaris.

A beta version of BOINC is available for free from the BOINC Web site at University of California Berkeley.

Munir Kotadia of ZDNet UK reported from London.