Electronic Design

ISP Plans On Turning Subscriber Base Into Supercomputer Network

Juno Online Services' Virtual Supercomputing Network initiative hopes to harness the unused computing power of the company's subscribers. While the ISP currently compels its free-service users to view online advertisements and share marketing data, it may in the future raise additional revenues by selling unused processing power from subscribers' computers to research institutions and corporations.

Under the initiative guidelines, Juno software would run whenever a subscriber's computer is left idle for a given length of time. Acting much like a screensaver, this software would halt when the subscriber resumes computer use. The company calls this initiative a form of distributed computing. Under the plan, complex computational tasks will be broken down and routed to the individual computers of Juno users.

Revised user guidelines posted by the ISP require current and prospective users to leave their computers on, even when not in use. Also, users will have to download the company's computational software and, possibly, a screensaver. The software detects whether or not the computer is in use. It delegates priority to computer owners when they access their PCs. Potentially, it may program computers to call Juno's systems with computational results if users infrequently access the service.

Volunteers At First
The company will test the supercomputing venture with volunteers. If it needs more computing power, Juno will require heavy-service users or even all users to join the initiative. While the company's Internet services will remain free, users will bear the cost of electricity, computer maintenance, and long-distance telephone charges if applicable. If the computations themselves generate commercial value, Juno and its partners will share the profits.

The company says this initiative is a response to the decrease in revenues from online advertisements. While agreements with outside companies have yet to be secured, Juno is targeting biotechnology firms as the initiative's prime customer base. Companies in this market need a great deal of computing power to aid in the decoding of genetic information for medical research.

Current subscribers of the free service will be offered an upgrade to a paid service plan to avoid the supercomputing requirement. To calm its subscribers' security concerns, Juno plans to institute unspecified safeguards to prevent its partners from commanding computers in the supercomputer network to act inappropriately. The system also is designed to access computing power solely without inspecting hard drives or reading cookies.

Testing of the Juno Virtual Supercomputer Project is set to begin in the coming months. For more information, visit www.juno.com.

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