Foldng at Home screenshot

A week or two ago, a team of the great people at VMware got together to create a VMware appliance, in order to help out with the Folding@Home project. The project has been around for many years but Amanda Blevins was instrumental in galvanizing the VMware community to donate their spare CPU/GPU cycles to the project, which requires immense compute to fight against many diseases, including COVID-19.

The appliance created is at version 1.0.1 (at the time of writing) and now also supports VMware Workstation/Fusion, along with VMware Hardware version 11 or later. Deployment is as easy as any VMware appliance and detailed instructions are also available from the same download fling. The great thing about running an appliance is that you can control the resources being consumed on the host machine precisely.

However, if this is your first time hearing about Folding@Home, you could be forgiven for not knowing that by far, the most common way of contributing is by installing a client on your computer. While it might not allow as much resource control as an appliance, it doesn’t require a VMware hypervisor product to run and requires a few minutes to be up and running.

In recent days, I’ve seen a lot of questions being posted at various forums and Twitter after getting started. So, I thought it would be helpful if I posted some tips to ease some growing pains. So here they are:

  1. I don’t have VMware installed anywhere, can I still help?

Sure! Download the client from the website. The instructions are very well-written so it shouldn’t be a problem at all!

  1. Do I need a Passkey?

I would highly recommend you use one right from the start. You receive it fairly quickly after request. It verifies that it is indeed you when you’re joining and no one can impersonate you but you/your team can earn extra points too.

  1. Will it make my machine too busy and unresponsive?

The client has a selection between “When I’m working” and “Only when idle” setting so pick the latter if you find the machine is too busy. That said, the client is pretty smart in scheduling so even with “Power=Full” and “While I’m working”, I don’t see any issues with day to day working.

  1. I’ve installed the client but no work units are coming through. What’s wrong?

Chances are that nothing is wrong. The “Work Server” might be too busy, no jobs to assign or simply down for some reason. Due to the recent heavy interest from all communities, the infrastructure hasn’t kept up with the demand for jobs. While it’s a nice problem to have, it might take some time for the volunteers to come up with more resource.

It is also likely that no jobs are available or your hardware doesn’t match the work unit requirements. Be patient as they will come!

  1. I want more control. Is there a control panel?

Yes, there is! If you look where things get installed, you will find “FAH Control”. It gives you finer control over various settings, oversight of your entire farm (if you are lucky enough to run more than one node) and many other controls. For obvious reasons, the “Status” and “Log” tabs are the most important to look into, to see exactly what’s happening.

  1. It has been a while but I am still not getting any jobs. Can I do something?

Firstly, wait for at least a couple of hours. If still no jobs, try “Stop Folding” and then “Start Folding” again from the web client or if you like “FAH Control” (recommended) better, “Pause” and “Fold” after a few seconds.

Doing so, will reset the timeout between “Attempts”, which increases with every attempt. I would recommend trying that if you’ve not been getting jobs at any point for a few hours. It also helps when some work servers are getting in and out of action.

You can also try that trick with specific “Folding Slots” by right-clicking on the slot and choosing “Pause” and “Fold” in FAH Control.

  1. Is there a way to help specifically with COVID-19?

No, but the priority has been raised within the project to work on COVID-19 projects so if you select “Any disease” in the client, you will get those work units automatically

  1. When my computer goes into screensaver mode, upon return, the web client starts into a refresh cycle with no information showing. What should I do?

Clear the browser cache.

  1. My job has completed but I can see the upload to “Collection Server” failing. What to do?

Patience, young grasshopper (showing my age here!). You don’t need to do anything. The server might be misbehaving or too busy. It will get retried periodically and eventually, will get uploaded. The work is saved in your work folder so should remain. Hopefully, the problem will get resolved before the work unit expires but I haven’t seen any taking that long.

  1. My points aren’t quite up-to-date. Have I lost them?

Most likely not. It’s possible that the upload hasn’t completed, collection server hasn’t fully acknowledged it or there’s some issue which may take some time to resolve.

  1. Are there any other helpful Folding@Home related pages?

Absolutely! Here are a few:

    1. Folding@Home Support Forums
    2. Folding@Home Active Projects
    3. Folding@Home Project Type and Server Status
    4. Folding@Home VMware Team Stats
    5. Extreme Overclocking Page with VMware Stats and trends etc.

I am writing this quickly – to help as many as possible looking to start with this extremely important cause.  I will definitely revisit and add to this page frequently so if you have any helpful hints and tips to pass on, do let me know and I’ll add yours here too.

I would urge you to consider contributing if you can, even if you don’t have a GPU-enabled computer or when your computer is idle, as all spare cycles will help beating these diseases and more specifically COVID-19. This is an extremely easy way to contribute to a global effort to beat the virus and apart from a few minutes of installation, requires no effort on your part.

I am sure I’ve heard it somewhere – Every little helps!