Saving Lives with P2P
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Distributed Science's Gamma Flux Project
Another company in the business of pooling and reselling computer resources across the Internet is Distributed Science. One program being demonstrated on their platform is the Gamma Flux project, which is trying to find safer ways to store radioactive waste.
Distributed Science is the result of the merger of ProcessTree and DCypher.Net in April 2000. Claiming to have a network of more than 158,000 computers worldwide, with 65 percent being outside the U.S., Distributed Science can afford to send a few cycles to research a good cause.
The Gamma Flux project is being run by Peter Jansson of the Institute for Radiation Science at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. Jansson is studying gamma-flux fields as they relate to radioactive waste storage, and the study requires massive calculations.
The nodes in the network pick a random location within the defined geometry of a radioactive source, cast 4.5 million gamma rays in random directions and calculate the contribution this makes to the gamma flux field around the simulated storage container. Results are returned to the server where they are computed into the overall result data that is then evaluated by Jansson.
Unlike Popular Power and Parabon, Distributed Science does not use a Java-based client. According to their Web site, "Our choice was decidedly for native code (C++/Assembler) over other solutions like Java. We see this as a core advantage for our software as it allows us to tap directly into the resources of the underlying operating system and microprocessor architecture."
Armin Lenz, vice president of Distributed Science, calls Gamma Flux a first-generation distributed computing project, meaning that it works without a true P2P infrastructure. The nodes in the network only communicate back to the server, which is true for all the applications discussed in this article.
A new Distributed Science client version called Harvester is due out next month and will have full P2P abilities, according to Lenz. This will replace the original client that was developed 14 months ago and was based on software originally created for the CS Cipher Challenge.
CareScience Care Data Exchange
In a different twist on using P2P for solving medical problems, CareScience has devised an innovative way to speed up access to medical records. CareScience is an online clinical care management company that has teamed up with the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in this project.
CareScience has developed a file-sharing program called CareScience Care Data Exchange that facilitates the accessing of patient records for medical workers. Think of it as a Napster for medical records, where any medical professional can get your records in an instant. Development has been ongoing since November 1999, and a beta release of the system is due out later this month.
P2P was chosen for the medical record dilemma partly because of the failure of large centralized systems. Community Health Information Networks (CHINs) are mainframe-driven databases that are supposed to house all the medical records of a given area, but the high expense of such systems have kept them from being widely adopted.
The Los Alamos Lab worked on the Government Computer-Based Patient Records (GCPR) project, and CareScience recognized the scientists at the lab to be leaders in analyzing interface problems.
Karl Fankhauser, director of the Care Data Exchange, discussed some of the technology issues on the Medcentercity.com site. "We are adopting some of the lab's CORBAmed interface technology into the Care Data Exchange. We differ in that we utilize XML and ebXML technologies to loosely couple customers' healthcare applications to our exchange, and use CORBAmed technologies to tightly couple our distributed servers." CORBAmed is a task force on Healthcare of the Object Management Group (OMG).
Fankhauser also points out that the Care Data Exchange could help health care organizations' efforts to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the areas of accountability and confidentiality.
"No one has a clue where paper patient data files are going," said Fankhauser. "In many cases, health care providers have no idea where the patient's file has traveled and through how many channels. The CareScience Care Data Exchange will track all transactions and requests online, so the movement of patient records can be fully documented."
CareScience hopes to leverage P2P technology and the Internet to integrate, analyze and share clinical information among health care professionals in order to overcome information barriers and fragmentation in healthcare delivery.
As these companies illustrate, the applications for P2P technology are quickly evolving beyond chatting and swapping MP3 files.
As distributing-computing systems mature, the possibilities for advancing research and solving complex scientific problems with P2P will only grow. We are witnessing a transition from the first round of distributed applications that perform rather esoteric tasks such as cracking ciphers and searching for extraterrestrial life, to programs that a much wider audience will care about, and that might even save lives.
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