United Devices Introduces Distributed Computing for Enterprises

United Devices, Inc.,a startup from Austin, Texas, today launched a new way for companies to deploydistributed computing technologies in the enterprise. Companies can useexisting desktop machines for performing technical calculations that wouldordinarily require a supercomputer.

The MetaProcessor platform allows applications to bedistributed across a fleet of end-user PCs. Developers write the applicationsfor the MetaProcessor SDK, which allows a server to send computations tasks outto the end user network. The desktop PCs crunch numbers during downtime, so theapplications do not intrude on the end-user experience.

If this sounds very similar to the SETI@Home project, which usesover two million volunteer computers to aid in the search for extraterrestriallife, it is no coincidence – the CTO of United Devices, David Anderson, is thedirector of the SETI@Home project. Despite the relationship, United Devicesdoes not use any code from SETI@Home.

United Devices aims to sell the distributed computingtechnology to enterprises as a way to use the investment in desktops fortechnical computing. “We’re trying to capture that investment and bring it backto the company,” says David Wilson, vice president of marketing and businessdevelopment at United Devices.

Wilson says the return on investment distributedcomputing offers is the most compelling reason for an enterprise to harness itsdesktops for technical computing. Compared to the cost of purchasing andmaintaining a supercomputing system, developing distributed applications ismuch more economical, even after factoring in electricity and support costs.

While Wilson admits the MetaProcessor platform will notbe appropriate for all technical applications, he believes that it offers valuein many vertical markets, pointing to the pharmaceutical and petroleum industries.“This lets companies do things they haven’t been able to do before that aredirectly tied to their competitiveness,” he says, noting, “A drug company couldtest many more patentable drugs [without purchasing new hardware.]”

Because the MetaProcessor platform is designed forend-user machines, United Devices believes reliability and stability arecritical for acceptance.  “Doingdistributed computing on end-user machines has its own set of challenges,”Wilson says. The agents are designed to run with little specialized support,and little disruption of end user’s work.

As a proof of concept, United Devices has deployed theMetaProcessor platform in a volunteer cancer research project. The THINKproject sends a screensaver out to volunteers on the Internet. When thescreensaver launches, it begins to perform calculations to see how moleculeswill interact with cancer-related proteins. When calculations are finished, theresults are sent to a server which aggregates the user results.

Wilson believes the THINK project attests to theviability of using distributed applications in the corporate environment.First, because volunteers are using the software, it attests to the code’s lowprofile – if users were annoyed by the intrusion, they would remove the softwarefrom their machines. Second, it demonstrates the security and reliability ofthe platform. “We’re running this on the most hostile network you can possiblyconceive of,” Wilson says.

In the enterprise, the MetaProcessor platform uses asimilar arrangement. Agents are distributed onto end-user machines, whichcrunch data and send it back to a central server. A second server provides afront end for analyzing the data. ChrisMcConnell