& cplSiteName &

Happy Birthday, Einstein@Home

Baruch Sterman
8/14/2015
50%
50%

A short while back, an email showed up in my inbox, sent to an old and long-forgotten address. The subject line was "Einstein@Home Newsletter." That was a project originally launched ten years ago, and the administrators wanted to commemorate the anniversary with a thank you note to those who had been part of it -- a nostalgic nod to a pretty awesome bit of technology and a milestone in computing history.

Einstein@Home was meant to search for anomalies in space, like pulsars and other exotic astronomical phenomena. It was a project that required vast computing power -- in this case, to scour a myriad of images in the sky in a range of wavelengths and to identify slight variations in star brightness over time. Aside from the noble goals of the project, what was really exciting was that it was built with a distributed algorithm, using volunteers who donated their computer idle time to carry out complex computing. Anyone with an Internet connection could download a program that would run in the background and communicate with a server to get data and instructions, process tasks and report the results back.

Ten years on, there are more than 300,000 volunteers running Einstein@Home from over 220 countries, representing a whopping 1,000 petaflops of computing power -- that would rank in the top 20 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers.

The project has generated numerous papers and was instrumental in the discovery of a number of radio-wave pulsars and other curious space objects. Einstein@Home is now also analyzing Gravitational Wave data. But the scientific value of the project is not what struck me as I thought back over the ten years of donating my CPU to science. What came to mind, rather, was the pivotal part that this technology played in the history of computing and the far-reaching social and economic disruption it facilitated.

Distributed computing has been around since the 1970s. As the Internet evolved, by the late 1990s, it was applied to connected, always-on, personal computers. One of the first projects that used this wide-scale communication and sharing technology was Seti@Home, a project out of Berkeley that analyzed the data from huge arrays of radio telescopes to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Advances in distributed processing and shared computing led to improvements in two closely related, subsidiary technologies: Peer-to-Peer Computing and Distributed File Sharing.

When Napster burst onto the online scene in 1999, it was one of the first commercial applications to take advantage of those technologies. Though it only lasted two years, Napster and the music sharing culture that it spawned set in motion incredibly disruptive changes in the way people consumed entertainment, and put us on a path that ultimately led to things like BitTorrent, Hulu and Netflix.

Napster was eventually shut down as a result of legal action taken against it for copyright infringement by the recording industry. But even as Napster pulled the plug on its servers, another company stood poised to take its place at the vanguard of the file-sharing universe. KaZaA, out of Estonia, relied more heavily on Peer-to-Peer and de-centralization of content and didn't face the same challenges as Napster. That program was wildly successful with more than 4 million active users and an install base numbering orders of magnitude above that.

On the auspicious day of August 29, 2003, every KaZaA user woke to find that another program had automatically downloaded and installed itself. The program allowed communication using a technology called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). It was based on essentially the same Peer-to-Peer discovery mechanism as KaZaA, and purportedly allowed any user to talk to any other user, anywhere in the world, for free. And the rest, as they say, is history.

By piggy-backing off of KaZaA's existing user base, VoIP was able to overcome the huge barrier of the Network Effect -- a term from economics that describes a service whose value is dependent on the number of subscribers using it. From day one, the install base was large enough for people to see the benefit in using it, and though the technology had been around for almost a decade, no commercial program had garnered any substantial success. Competitors not only had to contend with the ubiquitous distribution of KaZaA software, but also with the radical business model offering communication for free.

The avant-garde programmers at Berkeley, the intrepid researchers looking for radio signals from ET, the astronomers, biologists and chemists who used and improved distributed computing through volunteer CPU donors to carry out their work, could never have known that their efforts would eventually lead to extraordinary changes in society, economics and even geo-politics.

Peer-to-peer, file sharing, VoIP, social networking -- these technologies have led to a world of connected communication, on-demand entertainment, and content and data sharing and collaboration. As Bilbo once told Frodo of the Shire, "It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Happy Tenth Birthday, Einstein@Home.

— Baruch Sterman, Vice President of Technology Research, Vonage

(2)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Kruz
50%
50%
Kruz,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/20/2015 | 11:55:11 AM
Re: What would the future look like?
This nice project made our owner pc act as a distributed processing cloud in times where cloud wasnt even a concept, and all this for a good cause. This was truely innovative and I am happy I was part of it.
nasimson
50%
50%
nasimson,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/17/2015 | 8:27:05 PM
What would the future look like?
Thank you Sterman. You've beautifully connected our past with our present. But what about the future? Where all these technologies are leading us to?
More Blogs from Column
Status and next steps on spectrum policy for Gigabit LTE and 5G in the US and beyond.
Will social media platforms be the next big disruptor of the pay-TV industry? Could be, but pay-TV providers have ways to respond to this and other threats.
Gigabit LTE is a must-have, not a gimmick, for operators around the globe.
What organizations can expect when becoming GDPR compliant and how they can effectively navigate it.
Is there an upside to Moore's Law slowing down? Actually, there are many.
From The Founder
NFV's promises of automation and virtualization are intriguing, but what really excites service providers is the massive amount of money they could save.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
AT&T's Tech President Preps Workforce for the Future

7|26|17   |   5:47   |   (2) comments


AT&T is focused on the software-defined network of the future and is reskilling its workforce to get ready too, according to AT&T's President of Technology Development Melissa Arnoldi.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Cisco: Mentoring Critical to Attract & Retain Women

7|19|17   |   6:40   |   (1) comment


Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Computing System Product Group, shares why mentoring in all its forms is important for women and what Cisco is doing that's made a difference for women in tech.
LRTV Custom TV
Gigabit LTE With Snapdragon 835

7|12|17   |     |   (1) comment


At an event in Wembley stadium, EE used its live network to demonstrate gigabit LTE using a Sony Xperia XZ Premium smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip.
LRTV Custom TV
Implementing Machine Intelligence With Guavus

7|12|17   |     |   (0) comments


Guavus unites big data and machine intelligence, enabling many of the the largest service providers in the world to save money and drive measureable revenue. Learn how applying Machine Intelligence substantially reduces operational costs and in many cases can eliminate subscriber impact, meaning a better subscriber experience and higher NPS.
LRTV Custom TV
Unlocking Customer Experience Insights With Machine Intelligence

7|12|17   |     |   (0) comments


When used to analyze operational data and to drive operational decisions, machine intelligence reduces the number of tasks which require human intervention. Guavus invested in Machine Intelligence early. Learn about the difference between Machine Learning and Machine Intelligence.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Verizon VP Talks Network, Career Planning

7|12|17   |   4:49   |   (0) comments


Heidi Hemmer, vice president of Technology, Strategy & Planning at Verizon, shares how bold bets and the future of tech define her career.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Masergy's NFV Journey

7|11|17   |     |   (0) comments


Ray Watson, vice president of global technology at Masergy, discusses the advantages and challenges in entering the still-maturing NFV market for the past three years.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Mavenir on RCS Cloud Platform & Multi-ID

7|10|17   |     |   (0) comments


Guillaume Le Mener, head of marketing and corporate development at Mavenir, discussed RCS and the recent launch of Multi-ID, which supports T-Mobile's DIGITS, the revolutionary new technology that breaks down the limitation of one number per phone and one phone per number.
LRTV Custom TV
ADTRAN Executive Outlines Trends in Next-Generation 10-Gigabit Cable Networks

7|10|17   |     |   (0) comments


Hossam Salib, VP of Cable and Wireless Strategy at ADTRAN, outlines key trends as MSOs begin to deploy next-generation Gigabit and 10-Gigabit cable networks. In the interview, Hossam outlines the advantages of a Fiber Deep architecture, FTTH options including EPON and RFoG, and the importance of SDN and NFV in building next-generation high-bandwidth cable networks.
LRTV Interviews
Global Capacity: Bandwidth Demand Driving Ethernet Growth

7|6|17   |   6:37   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's Big Communications Event in Austin, Texas, Global Capacity's VP of Marketing Mary Stanhope talks about how the demand for bandwidth is changing the way service providers deliver broadband services.
LRTV Interviews
Colt's Services Chief on Digital Delivery

7|5|17   |   16:12   |   (0) comments


Rogier Bronsgeest, the chief customer experience officer (chief CEO!) at Colt, discusses the way in which the service provider interacts with its customers these days and his aggressive net promoter score (NPS) targets.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
BT VP: Women Should Fill Security Talent Gap

7|5|17   |   6:00   |   (2) comments


By 2020 there will be six security jobs for every qualified worker, and Kate Kuehn, vice president of Security for BT in the Americas, says BT wants to encourage women to fill the shortage in jobs.
Upcoming Live Events
September 28, 2017, Denver, CO
October 18, 2017, Colorado Convention Center - Denver, CO
November 1, 2017, The Royal Garden Hotel
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 2, 2017, 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, UK
November 30, 2017, The Westin Times Square
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
BBC Head: We Must Reinvent Broadcasting for a New Generation
Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation, 7/21/2017
NFV, SDN, Big Data – It's All About Automation
Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading, 7/21/2017
What's a Little Throttling Between Friends?
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 7/24/2017
Qualcomm Takes Q3 Pummeling From Apple
Iain Morris, News Editor, 7/20/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
One of the nice bits of my job (other than the teeny tiny salary, obviously) is that I get to pick and choose who I interview for this slot on the Light Reading home ...
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.