How Plura actually works, in layman’s terms

Plura is a pretty technical company, but in light of the recent situation with Digsby, we thought we’d take this chance to explain in simple terms how Plura actually works, in layman’s terms.  The following is also designed to address some of the common conceptual questions that we get from individuals.

So, what is Plura and how does it work?

A good way of understanding the goal of the Plura service is to compare it to car pooling.  We all have excess computing power on our PCs that we never use.  If we share our unused power, we can magnify the usefulness of our computers.

In fact, computer usage both at work and in the home continues to rise dramatically, year after year.  We all pay for broadband access, and we all pay for the electricity to run our machines.  We purchase the machines themselves as well, often at great expense.  But most of our time is spent in e-mail or the browser, or possibly a word processor.  These are not computationally intensive tasks.  There is a great deal of latent computing power that currently serves little or no use.  The fact is, most computers today waste power while they are active or idle.

Plura stitches thousands of machines together to harness their collective power.

The basic idea is that every machine has excess computing power, and that power can be provided by an individual to a Plura affiliate.  Plura then resells that computing power to our customers, and passes a percentage of that revenue back down to our affiliates, who can then reward the individuals who supplied the compute power.

What is the reward or benefit to the individual?  It depends on the affiliate.  If this affiliate is a non-profit or charityware application, the revenue will go to a charity because the individual’s motives are altruistic.  Affiliates might also offer individuals free software or upgrades, reward programs, or even dollars and cents via a micropayments platform.  That is largely up to the affiliate, though we do keep an eye on things to make sure that our Terms of Use are being followed.

Plura is the middleman in this whole process – we do the work of bringing 50,000 computers together as if they were one, and finding companies and organizations who are willing to pay for our collective processing power.

Another issue we get asked often has to do with to what extent Plura is “green” i.e. whether using Plura increases or decreases an individual’s carbon footprint.

Energy efficiency is an additional side-benefit of Plura.  To be clear, we’re not out to claim that we’re saving the world – using a PC, no matter how you slice it or dice it, is energy-intensive.  But that said, we are much, much greener than other large-scale computing providers, precisely because of the way we operate.

A lot has been written about the carbon footprint of large datacenters like Google’s.  By connecting to computers over the Web, Plura utilizes excess power, thereby turning waste into something useful.  This reuse of energy is starkly different than the energy footprint produced by traditional data centers.

That said, if as an individual you are concerned with being as green as possible, the best thing to do is to turn off your computer whenever you’re not using it.  But Plura does help better utilize the processing power that you inevitably generate whenever you are in fact using your PC.

In this post it’s also important to talk a little bit about privacy and control too.

Plura does not, in any way, shape or form, take over your computer, or interfere with your normal computing actions.  Plura kicks in when your computer is running but idle, making use of extra CPU cycles that would otherwise be wasted.  When you put your computer to sleep or turn your computer off, Plura stops running.  And the Plura application is a low priority application – meaning, it sits at the bottom of the food chain.  If you need your computing power for other tasks, Plura waits until there is excess capacity once again.

Plura does not have access to any of your personal information, passwords, etc. either.  In fact. no information at all, personal or otherwise, is accessed or recorded.  It is actually not even possible for our technology to compromise your machine, or any kind of server that you in turn have access to.

Plura is essentially just a piece of Java (computer code) that our affiliates drop into their applications (whether they are downloads or browser-based).  Plura is lightweight by design – it does not have the kinds of capabilities that would allow us or our affiliates to access files, distribute a virus, etc.

Plura is a lot like a music or video site, actually – you can listen to the music or play the video in the background while you are doing other things.  The music or video site cannot do anything besides play the music or video you selected.  It does not have access to your computer in any way.  But instead of using your computing power to display a video or play a song, Plura uses it to power our customers’ own products, services, and research projects.

Furthermore, our customers have zero access to our affiliates’ applications and our affiliates’ users.  Our affiliates and their users likewise have zero access to our customers.  The entire process is double-blind.

This is a very important point.  We are reselling computing power, but we are doing so in a way that is completely anonymous.  Individuals and affiliates are passing computing power up to Plura, but absolutely nothing is passed back.  The same goes for our customers – we provide them raw (essentially wholesale) processing power, but they have zero access to our infrastructure – they are merely purchasing our output.

A good metaphor, actually, is municipal water supply.  Water comes from many different sources, and depending on the source, may contain different minerals and even a few contaminates.  The city or municipality has invested in a plant which gathers and purifies the water and distributes it to customers.  The customers have no way of knowing where exactly the water came from – but whenever they turn on the faucet – good, safe, and clean water comes out.  And even if a malicious individual wanted to pollute the water supply, it’s an impossible task – the water only flows one way (and waste, another).

What haven’t we covered?  What questions do you have about the Plura service?  Pease let us know in the comments.


25 Responses to “How Plura actually works, in layman’s terms”

  1. 1 Eli November 1, 2009 at 3:42 am

    Actually, Plura encourages thrid party developers to bury their applet in applications, sharing revenue, and encouraging *round-the-clock* CPU hijacking of people. Lovely bit of plausable deniability they have going on by farming out their dirty work like this.

  2. 2 Pip November 9, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Hang on. If you’re using my PC and my bandwidth shouldn’t you be paying me.
    Either way how can I say ‘No’ you you once and for all, without the annoying pop up??

  3. 3 Mac November 30, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Eli: Actually, Plura requires developers to disclose the use and function of Plura up front. Nothing is “hijacked” — by definition it relies on idle time.

    Pip: The most obvious answer is to just not use the software or website where Plura is running. The sites I’ve seen offer opt-out just by asking (as per Plura’s rules), and so far I haven’t seen stand-alone software that uses it, other than my own.

    For my projects, it’s a great way to provide useful products at no cost to the end-user. If they have a problem with Plura, they don’t run the app. Running Plura is essentially the “price” of my app. These accusations of nefarious secret “theft” of your precious resources are simply unjustified.

  4. 4 D December 1, 2009 at 12:19 pm


    I was wondering what type of programs and research I would be supplying my idle computing power/time to. It’s kind of freaky not to know what I would be contributing to. Thanks!

  5. 5 Mac December 1, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I wouldn’t presume to answer on Plura’s behalf, but if you skim through the site they provide examples. They donate some capacity to universities, and paying customers are doing things like medical research and oil and gas exploration.

    Also, if you do more digging, you’ll find that Plura’s backers (Ceeris, or something like that) are heavily into charitable giving, and some portion of Plura proceeds actually go to charity.

  6. 6 Mark June 11, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    What is the interaction of Plura with a computer’s power-saving modes? It’s claimed elsewhere that Plura will not run on a laptop in battery mode, but won’t it cause a lightly-user desktop to consume more power?

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