Need cash? Forget plasma, and donate CPU time instead.

Jeff Martens CEO of CPUsage

Jeff Martens CEO of CPUsage

Do you sleep? Have a laptop or desktop that sits idle during those eight hours? Need an extra $10 a month? If so, startup CPUsage has a proposition that you should hear. The eight-month-old startup wants to pay folks so it can harness their idle compute time to sell to corporations. CEO and Co-Founder Jeff Martens estimates an average user donating four hours of compute time every day could score about $10 a month.

Martens and his two other co-founders want to turn their Portland, Ore.-based startup into the Folding@home or SETI@home of the for-profit world. The goal is to enroll users and use their computers to help corporate customers (the startup already has two) speed up their analysis jobs. The company’s software breaks up a job into bits and sends those bits to the user’s computer for parallel processing. One customer uses the service for decoding agricultural DNA. Martens knows it’s not right for all jobs, as latency is high and there might be security concerns.

However, he stressed that each node only gets 1/500 of the data to process, which makes it harder to reassemble the job. The map above shows where the company has nodes today. Also, unlike Plura Processing, another company doing this sort of CPU harvesting for profit, CPUsage works directly with its members as opposed to through a game or other intermediary, so its software resides on the user’s hardware as opposed to harnessing CPU cycles through a browser. This allows for extra security over how information is treated, asserts Martens.

The idea of harnessing idle compute time stretches all the way back to 1999 when the SETI@home project was created to help listen for extraterrestrial life. Other non-profit projects followed, including Folding@home, which studies proteins to find cures for diseases. But Martens believes there is a market for folks who would be more interested in giving up their idle compute time if they were directly compensated.

Under his planned model, for every dollar CPUsage earns, about 45 cents goes back to the person who owns the computer CPUsage is harnessing. The company charges customers about 15 cents per CPU per hour in line with the pricing for Amazon’s medium-sized instances. Obviously, this isn’t a solution for everyone, but it might be useful for enough people to make a viable business.

And Martens thinks it could do some social good as well. He says the company is talking to the Portland School District to take on some of the idle computers in the district’s schools — which Martens thinks could generate $1 million for the district in a year. Another customer of CPUsage recently hit it big in the media for its ability to harness compute power to find lost gadgets.

For now, Martens goal is to raise in the range of $750,000 for a seed round to help expand the number of computers CPUsage will have in its system. He would also like to move from the current architecture that requires all jobs and traffic to flow through the company’s servers to more of a peer-to-peer Skype-like design to help cut down on bandwidth costs.

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