The computing cloud’s future in cancer research & how to get online in a pinch.

We were recently amazed at the power of ‘the cloud’ when we heard of a recent supercomputer that was made for just under $15,000. Considering that most supercomputers cost over a $1 billion, we think that’s a pretty good deal.

The low price obviously comes with a clever twist: it wasn’t a real supercomputer. It was a cloud of individual node computers, which cancer researches rented for the 3-hour total they needed it, with that low total cost.

One of the many tests run on the temporary supercomputer. You're looking at a virus interacting with a synthetic compound

The computers were used to test 21 million new synthetic compounds, to see if any of them would bind with a specific protein in cancer cells. Read more about the research if you’re interested; we’re going to talk about just what ‘the cloud’ is.

In concept, the cloud is a way to deliver computing power through the internet, rather than having it inside the computer you’re using. The internet is a lot like an electrical grid for information, so it’s like having your electrical power delivered to you through power lines, rather than having a generator at your house.

Computing like this will take off, especially for researchers and people who need high computing power, but don’t need it permanently or can’t afford the cost of making such a computer. That means that cloud computing is an expanding industry, with need for computer scientists to grow and develop its capabilities.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, you can't really expect a stable internet connection. But engineers have helped disaster relief workers by making Tethr, a box that can find an internet connection anywhere.

With things like cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) expanding rapidly like this, it’s being used in things like disaster response. But there’s a glaring problem: disaster areas probably don’t have stable internet connections!

To work on solving this problem, a number of engineers (hardware, electrical and networking engineers, to be exact) built a box that has the ability to connect to the internet via satellite, 3g, dial-up and wifi. That’s basically every major method for internet connectivity, and any given area will probably have one of them. The rest of the box has a lightweight computer which can access the internet, where it can interact with disaster relief software like OpenStreetMap, which keeps maps of everywhere in the world, and Ushahidi, which keeps reports and updates on major events around the world.

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