How does donor funding compare with federal grant funding?
While the Folding@home Consortium groups do get a significant amount of funding from US Federal funding agencies, there are significant restrictions on the spending of those funds. Thus, even a small amount of funds from donors, which comes in without those restrictions, can enable us to buy important equipment. Those procurements can fundamentally improve Folding@home. For example, the funds have been used for servers that speed up the statistics process or improve server reliability.
A large number of requests
The major Federal funding agencies supporting research in biology and chemistry in the US are primarily NIH (National Institutes of Health) and NSF (National Science Foundation). They distribute money by funding research proposals submitted by researchers at universities, research institutes, medical schools and even some corporate research facilities. Every year, the agencies issue dozens to hundreds of RFPs (requests for proposals) in specific areas that the government is interested in funding. Depending on the area, they may receive 5 to 10 proposals for each one they have funds to support.
Outside their core focus areas
Not only is the selection process very competitive but in trying to make their money go as far as possible, the agencies prefer not to fund capital equipment (centrifuges, gas, chromatographs, fluorescence microscopes, basically any scientific equipment costing more than $1-2K) or what they deem to be “infrastructure”, such as lab construction/renovation, built-in equipment like autoclaves and cold rooms, scientific books and journals, office professional services or computer equipment and software.
Key focus of federal funding
What they typically do fund are stipends and tuition for graduate students, salaries and benefits for technicians and post-docs, summer salary for faculty, consumable materials and supplies for the research as well as travel to field-research sites and to scientific meetings. These are “restricted funds”, which, within some tolerance, can only be spent for the purposes originally claimed.
We have done what we can to get servers from elsewhere. For example, funds that the university or the state make available for capital equipment and infrastructure building, leftover funds from (rare) fixed-cost research contracts, “in-kind” donations of equipment and/or developer time by interested companies e.g. Dell, Intel, Apple, nVidia and ATI – and not to mention private/corporate support for the group’s unusual research infrastructure needs.