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Throughout the entire history of computing technology (as opposed to the human computers made famous by movies like Hidden Figures), one fact has stayed consistent: Supercomputers are expensive.
Sure, you can now get more flops for every dollar you spend on computing technology and supercomputers are now far less vulnerable to a literal bug in the machinery, but the number one reason that cash-strapped academic organizations might hesitate to invest in a supercomputer is that teraflops are still costly.
The answer to this might seem obvious to anyone who has ever been impressed by the sheer amount of computing power that the Bitcoin network can command at any given time.
If computing power could be decentralized to the point where anyone with a decent desktop computer could earn cryptocurrencies by contributing unused flops to a “fog” supercomputer, then organizations that need serious amounts of computing power but don’t want to make an upfront investment in the hardware could lease those flops.
SONM aims to bootstrap the concept of monetizing the unused flops by connecting people with unused computing power with organizations that might be willing to pay for fog computing services.
What makes a fog supercomputer different from cloud computing?
The chief difference here seems to be that you think of fog as this sorta wispy cloud that floats along the ground. It only gets annoying when it wrecks your ability to see any significant distance while your driving and the fog will evaporate when it warms up enough.
A cloud is something you could point at up in the sky that might bring rain. It looks pretty well-defined in shape and boundaries. Likewise, a cloud server is usually something you can pinpoint with a little technical know-how.
A “fog” supercomputer is different because the computers that are providing your flops can shift around and change depending on the preferences of the owners.
If a topography of a fog supercomputer could be created, its tendrils might look as thin and wispy as a light covering of fog. That supercomputer might take a slight dip in computer power if the owner of a gaming laptop decides that he wants to play a game for a few hours.
It’s the sum total of computing power that a fog supercomputer can command that could put it on the same level as IBM’s Watson, or even the Bitcoin network if enough people decide to rent out their unused flops.
What Does Using SOMN Require?
Before you can rent out your unused computing power, you need to download something called Docker.(i) It’s designed for serious developers and is available as a free Community Edition and premium Enterprise Edition. The good part here is that Docker is available for a good variety of operating systems, including the major flavors of Linux.
The chief problem with Docker is that its website seems intent on sending potential users around in an endless loop through its documentation pages rather than simply making it easy to download the Community Edition.
If users can figure that part out, SOMN does provide some easy-to-follow instructions for setting up its miner that is geared toward Linux (or maybe the website just detected on its own that I use a Linux laptop).
What Is SOMN’s Target Audience?
SOMN seems to target any organization that needs to process large amounts of data but don’t have the upfront cash needed to buy hardware that would give them large amounts of computing power.
So it could attract anyone who has already considered cloud computing as an option but have hesitated because they can’t find service packages that would give them computing power on the same level as the latest supercomputers.
Academic organizations are an obvious potential customer base to anyone who has ever heard of BOINC, which was designed to bootstrap unused computing power on people’s desktops to help process data from experiments. Some small academic organizations may find it attractive to just be able to rent the flops they need at any given time rather than spend the limited dollars they have on even a small supercomputer.
The SOMN system could also provide the back end for mobile apps, game servers, machine learning apps, and web hosting services that need more computing power than their backers can afford to buy. Anyone who has had to put up with slow video streaming and rendering may also be tempted to rent some flops to speed things up.
There aren’t too many negatives that I saw beyond Docker making it a hassle to download the Community Edition, which made it impossible to test the SOMN system. SOMN is also still in Alpha, which implies that it still has a few technical issues to sort out.
It’s also a matter of whether the concept of a decentralized fog supercomputer can catch on with organizations that may be used to a centralized organizational structure.
For instance, many government organizations may hesitate to get involved because, well, it’s a cryptocurrency that isn’t backed by a government and they’re too invested in the U.S. dollar. So in this case, it may be a matter of selling SOMN as a token that can be used to unlock computing power.
It’s also a case of the “chicken and the egg” problem in which owners of excess computing power may hesitate to rent it out if there aren’t enough customers to rent their flops and organizations may wait to rent the flops they need if the computing power isn’t there. So one may hope that SOMN has a decent marketing plan.
If SOMN can do what it takes to snag a decent share of the cloud computing market, though, it will have boosted an obvious application of the decentralized computing concept popularized by Bitcoin’s Proof-of-Work algorithms.
The same computing power used for Proof-of-Work can also be rented out for purposes like data crunching for academic organizations and boosting the performance of game servers and video rendering. If you care to place a bet on SOMN going big, SOMN has recently jumped by more than 30% on exchanges.
Thanks for reading!
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