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Photo courtesy Caltech.edu

An early Beowulf cluster at MIT. Notice that none of the hardware is incredibly expensive by itself, but combined it can do the work of a supercomputer.

Distributed computing is a concept that goes back to the earliest days of computers. Beowulf clusters, designed by Donald Becker and Thomas Sterling, have been in practical use since for more than twenty years. One of the first major distributed computing projects was Distributed.net, a project that set out to win a $10,000 prize by cracking the code and finding the key of RC5-56, a 56-bit encryption algorithm. After 250 days of uninterrupted effort, RC5-56 was cracked on October 19th, 1997, and the folks behind Distributed.net moved onto a 64-bit algorithm. This reporter remembers geeking out and angering his mom by leaving the computer on all the time when Distributed.net came to his attention via Slashdot in 2002.

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Decentralizing the Distribution

Fast-forward to today, and enter a project called Zennet, which would like to correct the imbalance of donated gigahertz by developing a way that users will be paid for this otherwise unused computing power. That’s one thing it will do differently. The other thing it will do differently is it will take the managerial structure of the aforementioned projects and eliminate the managers. Where Distributed.net sends out the packets to be of data to be processed, receives them, and sends out more, Zennet will be totally decentralized and the reward will be proportionally distributed.


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Zennet will be a way for large scientific concerns and small research projects alike to save money and for anyone with any type of personal computer to make money, a bazaar of computational services. All anyone will need to participate and earn money in their computer’s spare time is the ability to run the software, in the same way that Distributed.net would run even on BeOS back in the day.

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Modifying the Blockchain

Zennet will utilize a modified, faster version of Blockchain technology to create a situation where publishers (the scientific, research, and other types of facilities which require large-scale computer power) and providers (the everyday user who likely doesn’t need their full processor most of the time as well as super-geeks with Beowulf clusters looking for work) will meet. Think of it as a freelance job market for processors.

It is a totally free market: all participants are free to pay or charge by any rate they want. There are no restrictions. –Zennet documentation

The Possibilities Are Endless

To keep things fast and because most jobs will be small in scale, a cryptocurrency called Zencoin is being introduced, and the premine was supposed to have already happened. Presumably, Zencoins will be speculated against, which could have positive or negative impacts for the project. Only time will tell.

Another side effect of this project will be that certain large swaths of people presently still contributing their computing power to Distributed.net and [email protected] will be tempted to stray from the scientific missions of those projects. One thing not being talked about yet is the potential for rogue states like Iran to utilize the project in the furtherance of their nuclear research.
Like all new ideas, Zennet obviously has its drawbacks and issues which will have to be worked out over time, but this does not mean it should not be pursued with absolute vigor. Building a brighter, smarter future for all requires boldness, and to say Zennet is bold would be an understatement.

Images courtesy of Caltech.edu and Shutterstock.
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