December 15, 2005 saw then end of SETI@Home as we once knew it. The project was a revolution in its time. It was the first massive distributed computing project used spare CPU cycles on home users personal computers in an effort to search the stars for signs of extraterrestrial life.
The software was design to run as a screen saver in its most basic form, though advanced users were able to forgo the fancy screen effects in order to to achieve greater processing power. The software would connect to the mainframe via the internet and download work units for analysis. Then, when the computer was idle, it would crunch data for the SETI project. Even on today’s higher-end hardware, this could take 6 or more hours. In the early days, a single work unit would require days of CPU time. Then, when the work unit had been processed, the results would be uploaded back to the SETI project and a new work unit would be downloaded.
The concept was, and still is, genius. End users essentially donate their spare CPU time to the project. SETI essentially had access to an array of small computers that together far surpassed the processing power of all the worlds most powerful supercomputers.
Not to fear, SETI@Home will live on via BOINC, Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. BOINC is a framework that is designed to pick up where SETI@Home left off. It will continue to process work units for SETI, but also offers a number of other distributed computing projects for user to join. Other projects have formed around such areas as high-energy physics, molecular biology, and even study of the changing climate. These projects all take the SETI@Home’s approach to distributed computing in order to analyze results.
SETI@Home kept records of the work unit contributions made by project members. The project tracked a number of statistics including the number of units returned as well as the total amount of processing time dedicated to the effort. As of December 15th, all statistics were frozen as a permanent record of projects history and each users involvement.
SETI@Home’s web site has an interesting history of the project. If your feeling nostalgic about this project, it is worth the read! Though the original incarnation of SETI@Home might be gone, it is certainly not forgotten!
If you are interested in joining the BOINC effort, visit this site for more info.