The pandemic has shone a light on Folding@home, for all the right reasons.  

The distributed computing project leverages Pure Storage® FlashBlade® to drive the research and science needed to help scientists develop new therapeutics for a variety of diseases, including COVID-19. Folding@home’s efforts have led to a new model that predicts the severity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, and new antiviral candidates to treat it.

Folding@home is also contributing its findings to the COVID Moonshot initiative, which is a global collaboration among scientists working to develop an unpatented antiviral drug that makes COVID-19 treatment more affordable and accessible.  

For all its great work, we are thrilled to name Folding@home the recipient of this year’s Pure Good Award. This distinction honors organizations that use Pure solutions to make a positive social, environmental, or economic impact.

Processing 100,000 Times More Data at the Peak of the Pandemic

Folding@home was founded in 2000 on the notion that there is massive untapped compute power sitting in most peoples’ homes waiting to be mobilized against the world’s toughest problems. The initiative invites people to contribute their computing power to run various calculation segments, which Folding@home then aggregates on the backend.  

In the early days of the pandemic, more than one million citizen scientists donated their computing power to Folding@home to run various protein simulations—creating the most powerful supercomputer on the planet. The challenge was to reassemble countless tiny files returning from personal computers. Redistributed workloads send small bits of data back to a core compute cluster, grid, or cloud, which requires a high-performance solution for reassembly and, ultimately, processing. 

Utilizing a FlashBlade donated by Pure, Folding@home was able to leverage the unified fast file and object (UFFO) storage platform to massively scale capacity, boost performance, and process data faster for scientists.

By separating our capacity from compute, we’re able to get more out of our compute resources, which gives us the ability to ask questions at an unprecedented scale. It’s as if FlashBlade was purpose-built for the Folding@home mission.” – Dr. Greg Bowman, Director, Folding@home

Before the pandemic, Folding@home had 30,000 devices running full time each day, running calculations that would have cost millions of dollars through cloud services.

At the peak of its first pandemic simulations, over 280K GPUs and 4.8 million CPU cores were helping to simulate as many proteins as possible from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It’ is estimated that Folding@home generated over 0.1 seconds of simulation data—100,000 times more data than usual. It ingested about six terabytes of data per hour.

Powering Research to Prevent Devastating Diseases 

Folding@home is carrying this momentum into the ongoing battle against other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Ebola virus, and antibiotic-resistant infections. For example, Folding@home just posted its first work on a protein called ApoE, a strong genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Little has been known about the protein because its structure has made it difficult to run experiments. That is, until recently.

Using single molecule spectroscopy and Folding@home simulations powered by FlashBlade, researchers now have very detailed images that allow them to map what happens when one of the 299 amino acids in this protein is altered—and why that results in a 15-fold increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. These insights will inform drug development that can, one day, help prevent the disease altogether. 

We’re honored that FlashBlade is helping Dr. Bowman and his team drive such meaningful outcomes and look forward to solving more problems together. Congratulations to Folding@home for winning this year’s Pure Good Award.