No one really knows the exact origin of the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but it is certainly not a new concept. Regardless of its origin, the concept is particularly applicable in our lives today due to the impacts of the novel coronavirus. Today, we are rapidly adapting and adopting new solutions ranging from virtual meetings to home haircuts, to facemask construction and homemade hand sanitizer.
One of the most interesting innovations related to the new challenges which we face today is the work of the distributed computing research project Folding@home, which is simulating the dynamics of the novel coronavirus proteins to hunt for new therapeutics and treatment options for COVID-19.
While Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) has been busy supporting our customers worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also been looking for other creative ways to help end this crisis. To that end, starting last week Sungard AS began contributing the processing power of available PCs in our workplace centers to support the research of Folding@home.
As background, Folding@home (FAH or F@h) is a distributed computing consortium that supports research labs at Washington University in St. Louis, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Temple University, Notre Dame, University of Virginia, and many others. Founded in 1999, F@h is one of the largest distributed research computing environments in the world. It performs the analysis of proteins and their behavior to support the development of therapies for diseases such as breast cancer and other types of cancers, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, and infectious diseases, such as the Ebola virus, and now COVID-19.
The processing power needed to perform the analysis of protein folding and other protein movements linked to diseases can be immense. And while supercomputers can certainly handle the job, they are often cost-prohibitive and difficult to schedule. As a result, F@h and its supporters have built a distributed software system that allows general purpose distributed computing resources to do molecular simulations. By using the collective power of hundreds of millions of PCs sitting idle in the world, F@h is speeding up the process of this research and accelerating therapies for diseases.
When we learned that Sungard AS could provide some of our available computing power to this important research, we immediately wanted to do our part. There are many technology firms supporting F@h, and since VMware is a key technology partner of Sungard AS, we have deployed VMware’s technology and pre-built virtual machine images to our PCs to run the F@h client. We have also joined VMware’s contributing team, and we are quickly rising in the team ranks as we add more PCs to the effort. Since joining in mid-April, Sungard AS has moved into top 5% on the VMware team and the top 2% on the project overall, and we continue to move up in the donor rankings daily.
No customers will be inconvenienced during the process – we are only using inactive systems and resources to run the simulations. In addition, there is no cost associated with our involvement, other than the minimal time required of our employees and a nominal cost for power consumption.
Our core values as a company closely mirror the work of Folding@home, particularly the tenets of initiative, integrity, and teamwork. This effort brings together ‘citizen scientists’ such as the people from Sungard AS who volunteer to run the simulations, and insights from this data will help scientists better understand biology and provide new opportunities for developing therapeutics. By contributing our resources – smart people and available technology – we are doing our part to help combat COVID-19.