The HyperText Computer (HTC) and seti@home

SETI@home is a computing project that analyzes radio telescope data using the spare computing power available in internet connected computers. Users who wish to offer their computers’ processor and storage to the project, download and install BOINC – the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. BOINC accepts units of computing work from the seti@home server, does the work on your computer and then returns the results. BOINC also makes sure that the user’s other work is not interfered with by the seti@home work. The paper “Designing a Runtime System for Volunteer Computing (2006)” is a very readable description of how BOINC works.

BOINC shares many similarities with the proposed HyperText Computer (HTC). Lets look at how an HTC could be used to serve a project like seti@home.

HTC is, in part, an attempt to eliminate the effect of programmers implicitly making choices about where processing will be done through their choice of technology. Two core concepts of the HTC are that one, all computing resources are presented as the ability to complete HTTP requests, and two, that HTC programs reference all input information as URLs. Thirdly, the HTC depends on an extended HTTP which includes an offer of assistance along with the request for the information at a URL. The HTTP request becomes “please give me the information located in information space at this URL, and by the way, I have processing and storage available in my HTC and I am happy to help with the processing involved.” Webservers may return the HTML of a page, or code that calculates it. This mechanism provides an alternative to in-browser Javascript. These ideas are discussed here.

These mechanisms may also provide a generic alternative to special software like BOINC. Here is how it may work. If the computing resources of my desktop computer are managed by an HTC, and the seti@home project was also hosted on an HTC then from a user agent (browser), I could visit the seti@home website and request a “participate in seti@home project page”. This page would return their analysis code to my HTC which would begin executing the code, pulling radio telescope data from the seti@home server as needed using HTTP GET and HTTP POSTing the results back to the seti@home server when complete.

To accommodate the seti@home project, and other similar projects, an HTC on an end-user’s computer would need to adjust processing priorities based on the busyness of the computer and support long running threads.

Today, programmers who wish to use end-user computers’ spare cycles for their projects must use the special programming model offered by tools like BOINC to accomplish this. The proposed HTC, provides an alternative to this, where the programming model is the same wherever the processing takes place. The unification of the programming model makes life easy for programmers, and also for those responsible for corporate IT infrastructure. For example, in a corporate environment, a proxy server could trap the returned code and execute it on behalf of a user’s browser without the programming model or user being affected!

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