@home with Windows Azure: Using the Folding@home SMP Client

My teammate Brian Hitney has just posted a new article on some minor updates we have made to the @home with Windows Azure application.  Two minor changes have been implemented to allow new options for Folding@home “pros”:

  • You can now use Stanford University’s Folding@home SMP client to achieve better results with multiple CPUs in Windows Azure.
  • You can now configure the @home with Windows Azure application to set team membership the Folding@home client.

We have made these changes in response to feedback from those wanting to get ‘more’ out of their 90-days of free compute time from Windows Azure.

Folding With Multiple CPUs

On March 19, I wrote a post detailing whether you can run multiple-instances of the @home with Windows Azure application.  The answer is yes, but you will burn through your monthly allocation free compute time in less than a month, resulting in your account being disabled until the following month when you receive a new allocation.  This would be an example of scaling out in Windows Azure by running the Folding@home client on multiple single CPU machines.

It turns out that Folding@home rewards speed over quantity. It is better to complete a single work-unit faster than to work on multiple work-units at a slower pace.  This is an example of where scaling up in Windows Azure with a larger VM with multiple CPUs is a better solution.  For this to work, you need to use the SMP version of the Folding@home client. 

We had previously only included the single threaded version of the Folding@home client in the @home with Windows Azure application. With this update, the SMP client is now included, allowing you to scale up to multiple CPUs if you choose.  However, as with running multiple instances, this involves a tradeoff of burning through your monthly allocation of free compute time in less than a month.  Brian details how far your monthly free allocation will go with multiple CPUs in his post.

Folding for Your Team

By default, when you run the @home with Windows Azure application, your Folding@home contributions are reported back to Stanford as part of team “Windows Azure” (#18415). We’ve heard feedback from participants that they may already be folding for Stanford as part of another team.  In addition, to receive credit for your ‘speedier’ efforts, Stanford offers a passkey that uniquely identifies your contributions.

The @home with Windows Azure application now contains additional configuration settings that enable you to provide an alternative team name and a passkey.

For full details on how all of this works, see Brian’s post:

Folding@home with the SMP Client in Windows Azure

What is @home with Windows Azure?

Microsoft provides a 90-day free trial of Windows Azure where you can learn to kick the tires and run an application in the cloud 24×7 cost-free.  The @home with Windows Azure project is an online activity where you use those 90-days of free compute time(or your MSDN Subscriber benefits) to contribute to Stanford University’s Folding@home distributed computing project.

The Folding@home project helps scientists provide insight into the causes of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow disease, ALS, and some cancer-related syndromes, by running protein folding simulations on thousands of machines world wide,

You deploy Stanford’s Folding@home application to Windows Azure, where it will execute protein folding simulations in the cloud, thus contributing to the research effort. In essence, your participation is a donation of your free compute time to the Folding@home project!

Additionally, from the start of March 2012, Microsoft is donating $10 (up to a maximum of $5000) to Stanford’s Pande Lab for everyone that participates!

You can learn more about the project at: http://distributedcomputing.cloudapp.net

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