Folding @ Home: Donating Computing Power to the COVID-19 Fight
People power alone won’t win the fight against COVID-19 – your unused computing horsepower can play a vital role, too.
Folding@home is a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics. This includes the process of protein folding and the movements of proteins implicated in a variety of diseases.
Citizen scientists volunteer to run simulations of protein dynamics on their personal computers. These data-driven insights are used to help develop new therapies. Diseases that are believed to result from how proteins behave (or misbehave) include Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, BSE (Mad Cow disease), an inherited form of emphysema and even many cancers.
The study of protein dynamics also has a role to play in defeating a coronavirus and Folding@home has now set its sights on COVID-19. By the end of March, Folding@home had passed one million downloads of its software as people around the world rallied to fight the virus. It crossed the 1 exaflop milestone for computing power, making it collectively larger than the largest super computer.
To enter a human host cell, a coronavirus must interact with the human ACE2 receptor. This enzyme is found on the outer surface of many types of cells in the human body, including lung cells. Better understanding how the COVID-19 virus interacts with this receptor can help researchers develop new therapeutic antibodies or small molecules capable of disrupting this interaction so that the COVID-19 virus can’t enter a cell.
The first wave of Folding@home COVID-19 computing projects is focused on better understanding how the virus interacts with the ACE2 receptor. Some 16 related projects are currently running.
“These calculations are enormous and every little bit helps! Each simulation you run is like buying a lottery ticket,” Folding@home writes on its website. “The more tickets we buy, the better our chances of hitting the jackpot.”
The Folding@home Consortium is made up of 11 laboratories around the world and is backed by the likes of Intel, Google, Sony and NVIDIA. The emphasis is on harnessing the unused cycles of home and personal computers. But the team at VMware, a key partner of HyAlto, realized there was a lot more enterprise-level computing power that could also be harnessed—if all those VMware hosts around the world had the means.
Within a few days in March, VMware developed, tested and released a Virtual Appliance for the Folding@home client. The Appliance provides all FAH donors with a seamless deployment experience for vSphere environments.
We are proud to say that HyAlto was among the first to respond to VMware’s call-to-action a few weeks ago. We have installed the Appliance so that we can donate spare compute cycle from our datacenter equipment. We are playing on Folding@home’s VMware team and you can see the listing here.
In these momentous times, there is always a way that your organization can help, while keeping your most vital asset, your people, safe. Consider taking part in Folding@home to help our frontline heroes find a way to defeat COVID-19.