I thought I’d use some of this server’s spare resources to help further the good of humanity, by volunteering them for number-crunching on Berkeley’s BOINC programme, which is supposed to aid distributed research efforts by unobtrusively making use of idle system resources. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out.

As you’d expect, the server has no graphics hardware, so projects requiring a GPU ruled themselves out automatically. Still, that leaves a fair number, and I decided to try Cosmology@Home. Everything seemed to be set up properly, but then I happened to check the file into which the BOINC client was writing its messages:

30-Aug-2012 02:36:16 [Cosmology@Home] Sending scheduler request: To fetch work.
30-Aug-2012 02:36:16 [Cosmology@Home] Requesting new tasks
30-Aug-2012 02:36:21 [Cosmology@Home] Scheduler request completed: got 0 new tasks
30-Aug-2012 02:36:21 [Cosmology@Home] Message from server: No work sent
30-Aug-2012 02:36:21 [Cosmology@Home] Message from server: CAMB needs 476.84 MB RAM but only 248.74 MB is available for use.

My total system RAM is 512MB (of which generally around 10% is free): perfectly adequate for a server hosting a low-traffic personal site, but not enough for what seems a remarkably memory-intensive process, given that it’s supposed to be geared to use spare resources when a system is otherwise idling. (It turns out that the problem is not new.) BOINC has a list of projects requiring specifications higher than its default, but the list seems to be incomplete. (Possibly outdated, too: one project calls for 1GB RAM where the list states 512MB. Many projects’ sites give no indication either way.)

I had assumed that the default BOINC requirement of 64MB RAM meant system-wide RAM, but now I’m not sure. Specifications for one project call for 64MB RAM for the SIMAP client, which makes it sound as though the client process needs 64MB RAM to itself. Sadly, this situation is making me reluctant to create accounts on any more projects in order to find out. My impression is that trying to donate server time may well be a bad idea no matter how often the server finds itself idling; perhaps BOINC is better adjusted to the standards of desktop computers.



And I always thought that the story about a university using idle-time was an urban myth.


Sunday 23rd September, 2012 12:20 pm

Robert Seddon

Universities these days don't believe in idle time; they believe in the 'nominal' 35-hour week.

Sunday 23rd September, 2012 1:59 pm

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