What is volunteer computing?

“Volunteer computing” is a type of distributed computing in which computer owners can donate their spare computing resources (processing power, storage and Internet connection) to one or more research projects. 

Volunteer desktops, laptops, and mobile phones can be connected to form the equivalent of a single, huge and super-powerful virtual supercomputer. Computers often only use between 10% and 15% of their total processing capacity so there’s a lot of potential power available. A modern PC can perform billions of operations a second; so even when you're typing 60 words a minute, the computer is largely idle. Computations that would take tens of thousands of years to run on an ordinary machine can be processed in just a few months by agregating all these idle resources.

Nearly a million dedicated volunteers and their hardware are making a big difference to science, enabling projects that would be impossible without massive computing power. In volunteer computing, a problem is divided into many tasks, each of which is solved by one or more computers at once.

Historically, significant increases in available computing power have always enabled new insights and discoveries in all areas of human endeavor. With your help, the physical origins of the universe can be modeled and probed, to an extent never before possible. We hope you'll join us, and help to make these leaps beyond the frontiers of human knowledge....

Why we need your help

You may be wondering why an organisation like CERN, which established the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG) to crunch petabytes of physics data, needs volunteer help for computing.

CERN and its global partners constantly strive to maintain enough computing resources to handle all the needs of the scientists using the LHC. But most projects can always benefit from more computing power, to speed up analysis or make more detailed predictions. This is precisely where you can make a big difference.

Physicists trying to improve the way the LHC functions, or examining fundamental questions about the nature of space and time since the beginning of the Universe, will makes lots of refinements to their models, and therefore need to subject the revised models to barrages of tests against measured data thousands and thousands of times. It's incredibly computationally intensive.

So quite simply, with the help of volunteers like you, we can greatly extend the research that scientists using the LHC can do. By harnessing the power of thousands of desktop and laptop computers, we can tap into massive computing resources which enhance accelerator designs and test theoretical models. It is also a wonderful opportunity for YOU to get directly involved in cutting edge scientific research with CERN.