Revised plans for BigAdv (BA) experiment

We’ve put a lot of time into reading the comments about the BA experiment and have come to some conclusions regarding how we should proceed. BA was originally conceived as an experiment to push FAH as close to what you could run on a traditional supercomputer as possible, doing calculations that most researchers thought could never run on a distributed computing platform. In order to make this possible, the requirements for BA would have to be pretty extreme and constantly updating (much like how supercomputers are constantly being updated to the latest hardware). In recognition of this extreme set of requirements came a very large PPD.

BA was embraced by donors with powerful machines. It also encouraged donors to buy and build powerful machines, which are naturally expensive, in turn leading to donors naturally becoming upset when requirements change. However, updating BA is important. Without updating to keep BA amongst only the top machines in FAH, there would be a huge point inflation (turning off non-BA donors) and also limit what we could do with FAH outside of BA-needed projects.

In the most recent announcement of an update in BA, the reaction was particularly negative. This was far from our intent — we’re here to push our research forward and also to help bring donors together in this important cause we’re all fighting for. The BA update did the opposite. It turned people off from Folding@home and served as an obstacle to our ability to push our research forward.

We’ve listened to the donor comments (including those running BA and those who are not) and come to the following plan to be sensitive to their concerns but also to avoid this sort of issue continuing over and over in the future.

1) The posted change in BA requirements will be revised. The only change in requirements going forward will be to require 24 cores (with according changes in deadlines) and that will occur on May 1, 2014. Why change the minimum core count? In general, FAH works best when we have fewer longer trajectories rather than more slower trajectories, which is why we need to change the BA requirements periodically. Given the amount of BA work we would like to do, the cutoff has to be raised above the current level. While, 32 cores would be ideal but we can still get work done at 24 and, in recognition of donor needs, we will set the level there.

2) The BA experiment will permanently end on January 31, 2015. On that date, the servers will be set to accept only and we will have no plans for future BA WUs. This would allow donors to continue to use their machines and recoup more of their investment than the previous plan. This decision would also work to avoid future issues and strife within the FAH community associated with BA. We understand that many donors will be very disappointed about this decision. This was a judgement call I had to make and this decision is, in my opinion, the right thing to do for the long term good of FAH, even though I know there will be many upset donors right now.

In leading FAH, my approach has been to push the limits, try new experiments, but also keep an eye to the future such that FAH outlasts and out performs other distributed computing projects. Starting with establishing FAH itself over 13 years ago, to pushing to GPUs, true SMP, Playstation 3, and most recently to supercomputer like nodes with BA, we have constantly been trying new directions to see how we can further and further advance our research. All experiments come to an end, sooner or later. I think my team and I have learned a lot from reading the recent posts and it’s time for us to concentrate on the core parts of FAH and improve them and not bite off too much.

Going forward, the next steps will include a discussion of the change of the QRB formula and possibly an update of the benchmark machine. Our plan is to seek more input from donors for both changes. While a distributed computing project cannot be run effectively through polls, I think there is a lot of room for us to improve in terms of connecting to donors and incorporating their concerns. I’m very excited about the future of FAH. I think my team has learned a lot with BA and hopefully we can take that going forward to make FAH even better.

Thanks to all for their contributions and participation in FAH. Working together we have done and will continue to do great things!