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30 Desktops - Nothing To Do - Suggestions?

I, (actually my company) has 30 desktops that are going to be sitting idle for the next 9 months.  I hate the fact that this computing power will be going to waste.  I threw up a question regarding ideas for a distributed computing problem and didn't get much...

I'm looking for suggestions on how to use these systems for the next 9 months.  Should I make a cluster?  Or keep them independant and run something like a distributed computing project.  I mean, haven't you always wanted a bunch of random computing power at your disposal?

I actually have that now, and so long as the plan I come up with doesn't violate company policies, I'll have free reign to do what I want with the systems.

If I create a cluster, what the heck can I use it for?  If I set them up to do a distributed computing project, which should I do?

Thanks!
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werddrew
Asked:
werddrew
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6 Solutions
 
PCBONEZCommented:
Calculate Pi.
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_Commented:
Contact SETI. The last I heard, they are still looking for "cpu cycles" to use.
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_Commented:
Forgot the link.   : /

http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/
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nobusCommented:
make an internet cafe with them (return $$ for the company)
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BillDLCommented:
Sell them off one at a time and hope that the company doesn't notice.  I will take one to start off with, and I'm sure others here may want a spare computer going at a reasonable price.  By the time the company discovers they are missing, you might have enough money stashed away to have a few months off for a good holiday in the Caribbean before looking for another job :-)

Seriously though, have a look here:
http://www.grid.org/home.htm

I wonder how much the company could save in electricity consumption over 6 months without those computers running?
   
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BillDLCommented:
Sorry, 9 months.  That is a long time for that many computers to be sitting idle.  The way technology is tramping on, they will be outmoded by then.
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
I'd tend to agree, but these systems are used for running one very simple program over and over.  They might as well be blades...  So we'll be using at least 2/3 of em next year anyway...  I've wondered about the electricity angle too...  I'd been thinking about trying to find a distributed computing project that pays out...  One of those that you wouldn't do yourself on your own computer 'cause you'd only make like 37 cents, but since I have a whole fleet and 9 months, I might be able to pull down enough cash to pay the electric bill, and also help out someone else in the process.

Grid.org seems very similar to Folding@Home.  These might be good ones, I'd just prefer something with tangible gains...

SETI would be tough to get approved, I think.  Same with something from distributed.net.  It's one thing to try to say, "trying to find a cure for cancer." and it's quite another to say, "Trying to crack encryption" or "Find alien cultures."

The internet cafe is a cool idea, but the office I have is a basement office in an old office building.  Plus I'm in an economically depressed city of 80 thousand.  Not sure I'd get many people.

Thanks for the ideas though.  Keep em coming if you got more!
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BillDLCommented:
>>> "economically depressed city of 80 thousand" <<<

There's your angle.  In a socially and economically deprived area, there will always be people keen to learn computing skills, and those who will always be ready to give up some of their time to teach.  Does your City Municipality run any such low-cost courses for unemployed people keen to acquire some extra skills to help secure employment?  In the UK there are such courses run through Local Authority departments where attendees can pay a small fee before each evening session.  In fact, the fee really just covers the wages of the tutor for the hours worked, because they aren't always Council employees.

I'm not suggesting doing this gratis, because the City Municipality usually has to pay for leases on public halls, etc.
Having Council-Employed "Community Education" workers running organised and scheduled evening classes would take care of the potential security risk associated with allowing such access, and would probably cover any stipulations laid down by your Insurance company.

By keeping the lease charges low to the Council, you may be able to get free local advertising by way of a Logo or "Facilities provided by...", or whatever.

Even if you decided not to allow access by a Council-organised teaching scheme, and preferred to maybe allow a Church-based volunteer project to use the facilities, you might be able to reclaim extra expenditure outlays like  electricity, lighting, heating, etc back from your taxable profit.  ie. Charitable Donations.
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Rob WilliamsCommented:
9 months, perhaps they have sufficient time to reproduce <G>

On a more serious note; I agree with Bill's suggestion above. If you can assist your local community in someway I think that is the best option. Another is to elaborate on the Seti project idea. Seti has recently joined Boinc (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). Boinc allows you donate computing power to multiple organizations for use in everything from searching for extraterrestrials to cancer research. Have a look:
http://boinc.berkeley.edu/
--Rob
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
Boinc is cool.  Lotta projects there.  

Nothing's jumping out at me though, I was really hoping there'd be some project that just said, "This is the one."  

I welcome any other ideas...
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_Commented:
Hmmmmm.... well, with 30 computers, you could do some serious number crunching for the various "Lotterys".
: D
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BillDLCommented:
Hey, that's an idea coral.  I've got a program on this PC that allows me to download all the different UK lottery results in one go, and the results are stored in a tab-delimited text file.
With one computer assigned to each of the main lotteries in the US states (or wherever the jackpots are particularly large), and a suitable database query or two, you could surely calculate some probabilities and prepare number sets that might increase the chances of success.
werddrew, just remember who suggested this when you win it big time, and perhaps coral47 would then be generous enough to do a "points split" with his share of the takings.

Capture the heat output by all those computers running simultaneously, duct it, and use it to supplement the building's central heating or hot water.  Submit your results to GreenPeace or patent the idea and sell it.

It's a pity that your company is a Tax firm, because that's quite boring when it comes to dreaming up a project that might benefit the company by way of advertising through involvement in some type of unpaid project.  What I mean is that if your company was say a pharmaceutical company, then direct involvement with a biomedical research project or similar could yield positive publicity.  An insurance company would be more closely aligned to projects investigating and forecasting climate change and prediction of disasters caused by extreme weather.

For other experts' information, here is werddrew's other open question, just so that suggestions aren't duplicated.
http://www.experts-exchange.com/Operating_Systems/WinXP/Q_21800950.html

I've got to laugh at this one though
(indexed from http://boinc-wiki.ath.cx/index.php?title=Catalog_of_BOINC_Powered_Projects):

http://attribution.cpdn.org/

It's sponsored and supported by the WWF International, and their "user of the day" is Kathy who says this of herself in her profile:
"...very into healthy living and into the treehugging stuff, homeopathics, natural living, ecology, And New Age. I love giant rabbits, cats, rats and moths. I feed the birds, feed the strays, feed the bugs.....they are all my little friends......  love to be in the woods studying nature and thinking".

With that in mind, what does her picture show her holding?
http://attribution.cpdn.org/view_profile.php?userid=754
Yep, a dead fish that looks like a giant Sea Trout, which she appears to be proud to have dragged from its natural habitat by hooking it in the mouth and bashing it on the head or allowing it to slowly suffocate
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mandude0Commented:
I like the SETI idea but then, I'm just that kind of geek. I think it would be a good thing to help the world find a form of out side communication ;o).

Maybe we should take a vote on all this? Lots of great ideas flowing that might benefit us in the future. That and the Inet cafe might help some of the financially challenged to find better paying jobs *Shrugs*
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
I dig SETI too, I've run it in the past on my home computers.

My only issue is that i'm the "new IT guy" at this company.  I have my doubts that I could hijack company resources (desktops, electricity, etc.) in order to search for aliens without making a bunch of accountants question my sanity...

My goal is to find a project that's either philanthropic enough (like cancer research), has monetary value (like a "pay per cycle" program), or could otherwise somehow benefit the company (we're an accounting firm).

BillDL: funny links, btw.  :-)
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Rob WilliamsCommented:
Of the Boinc options I tend to favor http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/  as the most beneficial.
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BillDLCommented:
Just so we have some idea of the network setup, so we can suggest some meaningful uses.
You mentioned that the computers "are used for running one very simple program over and over".
What operating systems are they running, and what type of spec are they?

If your office building had been in a more affluent area, where the windows faced onto main thoroughfares where commuters stuck in the rush hour had a chance to gaze around, you could have stuck a monitor at each window displaying a separate fragment of a continuous presentation that would be eye catching and may attract the attention of the right clientelle.  However, that's a ludicrous idea and my imagination is far too vivid :-)

The more I think about it, the more I lean towards the idea of assisting the community in some way.  You are in a city of 80 thousand people. Despite the "economically depressed" state of your city, there must be a great many businesses who need to use accountancy firms, so free advertising could well pay dividends.  Local newspapers are always keen to headline stories about the underpriviledged or socially deprived sector of society being given the opportunity to progress in life.  You often see full-page colour features at the start of the "employment" section in papers where it has a profile along the following lines:

>>>
Article Headline: City Accountancy firm lends a helping hand.

The idea of having a "job for life" is no longer a realistic concept.  More and more people in today's changing economic climate are finding themselves out of work, and having to seek alternative forms of employment that they had never considered before.  Zachariah Zebedee is just one example of a commonplace scenario experienced by many, but he explained to us how he made the decision to 'make the best of a bad situation':

>
"I was made redundant from a manufacturing firm after working there for 18 years since the age of 17.  It came as a real shock, and I had to consider my options for the future.  Things have changed an awful lot since I was a youth, and most jobs these days need some experience at using a computer.  Manufacturing industries are on a decline, and I felt that I needed to a change, but needed somehow to try and bring my skills up to date.  I had no idea where to start, but that's where the "New Beginnings Project" came in.

The employment counsellor at my local Citizens Advice Center provided me with the right contacts, and I signed up for the short introductory 'Computing Basics' evening classes. It is a 3 week course consisting of two evening sessions of three hours each in a week.  So far, as I am half way through the course, I have learned the basics of how to type up letters and resumés and how to communicate using emails.  This will definitely give me the basic skills many employers are looking for these days.  Being evening classes, I was able to secure a temporary daytime job while I complete the course and then look for full-time employment where I will most likely need to use a computer in some way.  Who knows, perhaps in a few months when you telephone a contact centre to get a quote for your car insurance, or phone up directory enquiries for a telephone number, you may be speaking to me!"
<

The "New Beginnings Project" is made possible through the dedicated involvement of voluntary workers, many of whom were previously in Zachariah Zebedee's position.  The well known city Accountancy Firm, PC Bonez & Partners of 4th Avenue, have kindly allowed use of their facilities to make this limited course possible.  Their young dynamic IT Manager, Drew Sanquist, explains how he made the decision to support the project:

"We found ourselves with some vacant space in our 4th Avenue office, and it seemed a terrible waste of resources to allow so many computers to lie idle while there are so many people out there literally screaming out for the opportunity to gain some elementary computing skills.  I approached several voluntary organisations to discuss the possibilities, and the 'New Beginnings Project' jumped at the offer to allow them the use of PC Bonez & Partners' computers.  They supply the tutors, who are all volunteers, and PC Bonez & Partners provides a comfortable environment for the classes.  It obviously costs us money in lighting, electricity, printing ink and paper, etc, but we felt that it was a small price to pay for the chance to put something back into our community and help those who desperately need such opportunities.  There is always a possibility that the short computing courses may inspire a few people to pursue careers in Finance-related industries.  Perhaps we may even be in the position at some point in the future to employ one or more of those  former 'students' who did make the decision to follow such a career path".

{New Beginnings Project Logo Here} in partnership with/sponsored by {PC Bonez & Partners Logo Here}
<<<

Just don't let on in the interview that you will obviously claw back the expenditure which will be placed in the "Charitable Causes" ledger, so you won't really be out of pocket.
Note also the excessive use of the company name and address!

Do American newspapers have that type of large article on the facing page of their "job section" in the centre pages?
That's the direction I would personally go if I were in the same position.

Bill
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_Commented:
LOL @ BillDL.  I had one of those programs. But I only had one 486/DX66 at the time, and it didn't help me win much. Plus it took forever to crunch the data.

werddrew: Being the new guy, does make it a little harder to find something.   ; )
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PCBONEZCommented:
My only partner is a postal worker on Prozac.
She owns a shotgun so watch who's bonez your pickin'.
(-:
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BillDLCommented:
She sounds like a real darlin' ;-)
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BillDLCommented:
Hmmm, coral I don't think I remember seeing a 486/DX66 computer.  Was that the one carved out of granite that took wooden floppy disks?
http://www.barbneal.com/wav/tvthemes/fstones1.wav
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_Commented:
Whoops. Not quite that old. Should be i486 DX/2 66.   : /
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
Haha BillDL, I thought that was a real article you were copying and pasting, until I stumbled upon my own name!

Regarding the details:

They're all Windows XP machines.  Mostly P4s at 1800mhz, some 2400mhz.  More than sufficient HDD, between 256-512MB RAM.  Our entire office shares a T1.  So internet speed is not spectacular, but could be worse.  They're all networked together with a win2003 server upstairs.  The office itself is a first-floor office, but it's tucked way in the back of the building.  No windows anywhere and not very well kept.  We only employ people in the office for 4 months out of the year, so our maintenance reflects that.

I like the idea of a project like that, but worry about the workload.  As nice as it would be to have a community education program like that, I'd want to be very careful about splitting my workload.  Hence my initial desire to just use these systems to crunch for 8-9 months unmonitored...
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BillDLCommented:
Drew, I rarely type and paste because I have a weird and woderful imagination at times.  Coral47 will no doubt attest to the fact that some of my ideas seem to come from places that SETI are looking for life forms :-)

Yes, the extra workload would be a liability.  30 new users screwing up the machines each night would mean having to have a drive image of each workstation to restore again on a regular basis.  The spec is great though, and I don't think people who weren't paying for basic computer tuition would have any grounds to grumble about the lack of windows and slight untidiness of the office.  The security aspect would most likely also be too much of a headache.  I would like to think that those interested enough to try and further their skills would generally be fairly honest people, but you couldn't just lock them all in a room for 3 hours.  For all you knew, the tutor would nick out to the toilet for 5 minutes, and the industrious students might seize the opportunity to crack open the cases and whip out the hard drives, graphics cards, and memory sticks.  I mean, how could all of the students be vetted in advance to ensure that they weren't just signing up to see what they could steal.  The idea would be great in an ideal world, but we don't live in one.

Listen, I have a password-encrypted *.zip file containing 3 images that was left on this computer by my ex fiancée after she bought a digital camera.  Curiosity bugs me each time I have happened upon it over the last 4 years, but I don't have the time or patience to leave this PC running for 7 days executing a brute-force password cracking program on it.  Perhaps you could use your 30 workstations to reveal whether these images are what I think they might be :-)
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nobusCommented:
yeah - to all husbands who feel betrayed : go to the site and crack the night away . . .
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Rebound40Commented:
How about Prime95? Find a prime number, win bucks:
http://www.mersenne.org/freesoft.htm
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_Commented:
Found this one in the May 2006 Maximum PC.

Fight disease with your spare cycles, by helping to unlock the mysteries of protein folding, allowing doctors to better understand various diseases, like Alzheimerr's or Parkinsons.

http://folding.stanford.edu

and if you join Team Number 11108 (the Max PC team), you can go towww.maximumpc.com/forums to get useful tips
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Rob WilliamsCommented:
So what was the final decision? <G>
--Rob
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
Still haven't come to one.  I'm afraid that if I can't find something "business related" I won't be able to pull it off.  I don't have the "final say" in the process, just a "suggestive influence."
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Rob WilliamsCommented:
I was just curious, as it is an interesting opportunity. Let us know if you find a use. 9 months will be up sooner that you think. <G>
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
Agreed.  I'm a "homegrown" geek and I hate the fact that I have 30 desktops sitting downstairs at this moment doing NOTHING.  And they have to stay that way until January.  It almost causes me physical pain, I hate it.
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_Commented:
Tough one.  : /

Though I guess technically it is a Delete/Refund, since no suggestions "worked".
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
Yea I dunno what to think about this one.  Nothing's really jumped out at me, and the desktops are still sitting in a pile, powered down.

RobWill suggested Boinc which was the most interesting (and one I hadn't heard about) option.

BillDL took the time to come up with a very productive and elaborate plan, even though I probably couldn't pull it off...

I'm ok with a split, unless anyone else objects.  If that's the case, I suppose delete/refund is in the cards.
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Rob WilliamsCommented:
I would think all are in agreement with a split as you see fit. I don't think deleting the question would be fair as there were numerous good ideas here, that were not wrong, but rather you have chosen no to use, for good reasons.
Thanks,
--Rob
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_Commented:
Split them how you want. It's OK with me.  : )

But with no clear answer, a 8 way split is a pain for the Mods, so nuking it was the easy way out.  ; )
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werddrewAuthor Commented:
Haha, sounds ok to me I guess.
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BillDLCommented:
Thank you, werddrew, Venabili, and GranMod
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_Commented:
Thank you much.    : )
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