Volunteer Down: How COVID-19 created the largest idling supercomputer on earth


From close to scratch, the COVID-19 pandemic created the largest volunteer supercomputer on earth. Sadly, processing resources assigned to the corresponding Folding@home project can not be shared with other volunteer computing projects efficiently. In consequence, the largest supercomputer had significant idle times. This perspective paper investigates how the resource sharing of future volunteer computing projects could be improved. Notably, efficient resource sharing has been optimized throughout the last ten years in cloud computing. Therefore, this paper reviews the current state of volunteer and cloud computing to analyze what both domains could learn from each other. It turns out that the disclosed resource sharing shortcomings of volunteer computing could be addressed by technologies that have been invented, optimized and adapted for entirely different purposes by cloud-native companies like Uber, Airbnb, Google, or Facebook. Promising technologies might be containers, serverless architectures, image registries, distributed service registries and all have one thing in common: They already exist and are all tried and tested in large web-scale deployments.

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