Section 9: A Small Part Of A Supercomputer

Business supplies more than just power for their game consoles

By Kelsie O’Keefe
MSUM Mass Comm. Major

Section 9 is located on Roberts Street in downtown Fargo.
Photo by Kelsie O’Keefe


Section 9 is a cyber café offering 500-600 video game options to the Fargo-Moorhead gaming community, but when the gaming stops, and the café is still, Section 9’s computers design protein sequences, simulate gene folding problems, crunch physics experiments and search for extra terrestrial intelligence.

“Recently, there’s been a rising trend in various large-scale research projects where they realize that their supercomputers, while super, are still comparatively limited in the amount of data they can process,” says Thomas Schultz, part owner and creator of Section 9.

Spencer Stewart plays one of the hundreds of computer games offered at Section 9.
Photo by Amita Manandhar


Small part of a super computer

This is where Section 9 gets involved. Raw information is packaged and sent across the Internet to Section 9’s computers. When their computers are idle, their unused processor cycles are utilized to process information, analyze it and even interpret the results to some extent. That information is then sent back as a much smaller package of information for the supercomputer to “digest”.

To Section 9, the soft hum of idle computers means big contributions to science.
Photos by Amita Manandhar


Section 9 temporarily hosts and crunches vital data for:

  • Genome@Home – A Stanford project attempting to map all of the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA.

  • Folding@Home – Stanford’s Genome partner project that’s trying to reproduce the circumstances where non-living proteins organize themselves into protein balls and then into basic cellular structures.

  • SETI@Home – A Berkeley project searching for extra terrestrial intelligence through the analysis of space radio waves to find patterns that signify intelligence.

  • Einstein@Home – A project that crunches the information from physics experiments that researchers didn’t have time to go through.

Owner: ‘Really everyone should do it’

Anyone can voluntarily download the required software programs from these projects’ sites.

“It’s so easy to do. Really, everyone should do it,” says Stephen Sanford, part owner and creator of Section 9.

It’s free to download and the operating cost is equivalent to only about five percent of the power that goes through your computer, says Schultz, who estimates the cost to be “maybe a dollar a month for a single computer”. “If even that,” adds Sanford.

Designing DNA the world has never seen

According to the Human Genome Project Web site, “a day or two’s worth of running Genome@Home is enough to design new protein sequences that the world has never seen before.” That’s just from one computer. Section 9 has 18 computers and one very large, very powerful server.

“All 18 computers were built by us, right here in Section 9,” says Sanford over the dull hum of the large computer server behind him.

Tim Rohloff, part owner of Section 9, fixes a computer. Rohloff does the ground work at Section 9, which mostly consists of fixing computers.
Photo by Amita Manandhar


Computing power for a cure

Section 9’s creators put their computing power into these projects because they believe answers for the cures to diseases like cancer will come from projects like Genome@Home. Folding@Home’s reconstruction of cellular structures “is basically the spark of life,” says Schultz. As for SETI@Home, “it’s just interesting. I think it would be pretty cool if we did find intelligent life out there.”

After surfing the internet at Section 9, Rich K. Stewart waits for his son to finish playing a computer game.
Photo by Amita Manandhar

Six friends ‘looking for something to do’

Section 9 is owned and operated by six local friends, Tim Rohloff (22), Rob Sanford (22), Sean Sanford (21), Stephen Sanford (20), Thomas Schultz (21), and Greg Softing (20).

"We were all looking for something to do after high school," says Schultz. "Some of us have some college, some of us don’t. The gaming scene in Fargo used to be a really big thing. Now there’s not a lot of competitive or even friendly network gaming in Fargo so we decided hey, lets make a shop for it!"

Section 9 hopes to become a mid-size chain of cyber cafés in various cities in the region.


Sean Sanford, part owner, does double duty, manning the front desk and playing games.
Photo by Amita Manandhar


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