The Home Cure

PlayStation 3 to Help Study Causes of Cancer
by: Jerry Liao

If you think gaming consoles like Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii are machines that can be used just for gaming alone, you better think again.

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) announced that PLAYSTATION 3 (PS3) computer entertainment systems will have the capability to connect to Stanford University’s Folding@home program, a distributed computing project aimed at understanding protein folding, misfolding and related diseases. Stanford University is leveraging PS3’s powerful Cell Broadband EngineTM (Cell/B.E.) – and what will be an even more powerful distributed supercomputing network of PS3 systems – to help study the causes of diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis and many cancers.

Because the process of folding proteins is so complex, computers are used to perform simulations to study the process. Since these simulations can take up to 30 years for a single computer to complete, Folding@home enables this task to be shared among thousands of computers connected via the network, utilizing distributed computing technology. Once the data is processed, the information is sent back via the Internet to the central computer.

The Cell/B.E. processor inside each PS3 is roughly 10 times faster than a standard mainstream chip inside a personal computer (PC), so researchers are able to perform the simulations much faster, speeding up the research process.

Folding@Home is a distributed computing project – people from through out the world download and run software to band together to make one of the largest supercomputers in the world. Folding@Home uses novel computational methods coupled to distributed computing, to simulate problems thousands to millions of times more challenging than previously achieved.

“Millions of users have experienced the power of PS3 entertainment. Now they can utilize that exceptional computing power to help fight diseases,” said Masayuki Chatani, Corporate Executive and CTO Computer, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. “In order to study protein folding, researchers need more than just one super computer, but the massive processing power of thousands of networked computers. Previously, PCs have been the only option for scientists, but now, they have a new, more powerful tool—PS3.”

The PS3 client will also support some advanced visualization features. While the Cell microprocessor does most of the calculation processing of the simulation, the graphic chip of the PLAYSTATION 3 system (the RSX) displays the actual folding process in real-time using new technologies such as HDR and ISO surface rendering. It is possible to navigate the 3D space of the molecule using the interactive controller of the PS3, allowing us to look at the protein from different angles in real-time.

“We’re thrilled to have SCE be part of Stanford University’s Folding@home project,” said Vijay Pande, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and Folding@home project lead. “With PS3 now part of our network, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, with the goal of finding cures to some of the world’s most life-threatening diseases.”

With the latest system software update expected to become available at the end of March, Folding@home icon will be added to the Network menu of the XMB (XrossMediaBar). PS3 users can join the program by simply clicking on the Folding@home icon or optionally set the application to run automatically whenever PS3 is idle. Starting with Folding@home, SCE will continue to support distributed computing projects in a wide variety of academic fields such as medical and social sciences and environmental studies through the use of PS3 and hopes to contribute to the advancement of science.

Other I.T. companies who are helping the Folding@Home program are: Intel, Google, Dell, Apple, Omnipod and others.

The concept is very much like Grid Computing, which is the clustering of remotely distributed computing. The principal focus of grid computing to date has been on maximizing the use of available processor resources for compute-intensive applications. It applies the resources of many computers in a network to a single problem at the same time – usually a scientific or technical problem that requires a great number of computer processing cycles or access to large amounts of data.

Grid computing along with storage virtualization and server virtualization enables a Utility Computing. GUI: Graphical User Interface program interface based on graphics capabilities of the computer to create screens or windows.

Gaming consoles has continuously evolved to become a machine not just for gaming, but it can now be regarded as a super machine ready for entertainment, business, and now for research work. That’s technology working for the betterment of mankind.

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