In our previous blog post about Digsby, we wrote that
Although the relationship between our affiliates and their users is to a large degree out of our control, we think that we can contribute by being as clear and transparent as possible about what Plura is, how it works, and what our compute power is being used for. We can also have a hand in setting and enforcing how affiliates present Plura to users.
On the whole, our affiliates and our customers are wide-ranging. On the affiliate side, they’re generally looking for a way to earn money or raise funds to support their ongoing efforts (both for-profit and not-for-profit). On the customer side, they’re typically doing something research-oriented where they need to run very complicated math and modeling problems.
Our affiliates (the companies, services, projects and organizations that provide us with raw processing power in the first place) range from start-up Web services like Digsby to non-profits and educational institutions.
Superdonate, for example, encourages individuals to download and run their Plura-enabled desktop application as a way of providing donations to charitable causes, such as CARE, charity: water, and the Nature Conservancy. Superdonate users are effectively turning idle CPU cycles into charitable gifts.
Our customers, on the other hand, are doing everything from financial modeling to bioinformatics and fluid dynamics research. And we’re definitely looking for new customers!
80legs is a good customer to talk about as an example because they’ve taken the compute power we give them, and they’ve built something pretty cool on top. 80legs is itself a startup, and they provide a Web-scale crawling and processing service.
Disclosure: Plura and 80legs share an investor, and 80legs has been of great help to us as a guinea pig
If, for example, you were building a new search engine from scratch, and therefore needed to build and maintain and updated an index of all of the pages on the Web in order to return relevant results to users, 80legs would be an excellent choice.
Their own expertise is in Web crawling and processing, and they’re a very interesting company because they make crawling and processing possible for anyone or any company via a very simple request form on the Web. This is a very non-trivial accomplishment for anyone who knows the space well. It used to be that unless you could afford to build a supercomputer yourself, building something as ambitious as, say, a search engine – well, it was completely, totally out of reach. We’re really excited about 80legs because they’re democratizing something that until now only major players like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have had the ability to do.
80legs’ own customers include yes, search engines – but also Semantic Web companies of various kinds, video sites, market research companies, academic institutions, etc. – some are for-profit and some are not-for-profit. And the truth is that 80legs doesn’t have to get their processing power from us – their architecture can slurp in compute power from anywhere. But they continue to choose us because we can power the 80legs service at an incredible price point and without a lot of the typical infrastructure and overhead involved in such an endeavor.
The bigger point here is that compute power is in fact being sold and distributed and redistributed across a variety of domains, with a variety of value-added services for specific use cases. This is the ultimate vision for “cloud computing” – the idea that compute power will be ubiquitous, and as simple as plugging an extension cord into a wall socket. Plura is the middle-man in all of this – we take compute power from our affiliates, stitch it together so that the entire grid behave like a single supercomputer, and then resell that processing power to our customers.
We’ll explain more in our next post about how our affiliates harvest compute power, and in the process we’ll hopefully dispel some of the misconceptions that have cropped up along the way.