Supercomputing For Everyone

You may have heard about the "flash mob" craze. But have you heard about the FlashMob I project?

March 11, 2004

2 Min Read
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You may have heard about the "flash mob" craze. If not, in a nutshell, a flash mob is supposed to occur when strangers, in response to an anonymous e-mail, meet in a public place and do something inexplicable. A number of Web sites facilitate the concept; for example, if you log onto, you'll find that on March 14, you'll be able to articipate in a flash mob by going to 7-Eleven and asking for a pair of socks. Theoretically, I guess, 7-Elevens will be swamped with requests for socks.

OK, so that's the level of humor we're dealing with here, folks.

It's really striking the inane things people do with the sophisticated technology at their fingertips. I suppose that's what crossed the minds of the graduate students at the University of San Francisco recently. And then they decided to fight back.

According to an article in a recent New York Times, the students were discussing how they could build a PC powerful enough to become one of the world's fastest computers, when someone recalled the idea of flash mobs. Then the thought came: What if you send out a request for volunteers to bring their computers to one place for a day and plug them all into a high speed network? In other words, what if they built a Net of Dreams? (If you build it, they will come.)

The organizers are looking for roughly 1,200 computers, with at least a 1.3-GHz Pentium or AMD processor and 256-GB of memory. What's fascinating is this is the first time a supercomputer is being assembled in one place, in this case the university's Koret Gym on April 3. (More information is at .) The project, called "FlashMob I" is therefore a new idea in the world of supercomputers. Obviously, grid computing, which actually includes the SETI@Home project (PCs on the prowl for space aliens), has been around awhile. But the notion of creating an ad-hoc supercomputer on-the-fly that's tightly coupled on a fast LAN using ordinary PCs is brand-spankin' new. Those responsible explain that, if they are successful, they will have laid the foundation for the "every person's" supercomputer. Students, for example, would be able to get together with their PCs and study whatever they want, and would be able to use a supercomputer to help them.Of course, the usual suspects are offering some devices with real whiz-bang power, like IBM's P690 eServer. (More on that here). Imagine if one of THOSE plugged into this pow-wow. And, as always, technology wonks are still debating the whole need for outrageous speed (More on that here).And there are perils along with the promises of grid computing. (More on that here).

Still, I can't help but feel warm and fuzzy thinking about FlashMob I. It's an innovative, ambitious project, giving power to the people. And that's right on.

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