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May 5, 2006

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Welcome to the May 5, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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UCLA Engineers Announce Breakthrough in Semiconductor Research
UCLA News (05/04/06) Abraham, Melissa

A team of UCLA researchers has developed three new energy-efficient nanoscale architectures using an interconnection technology they call "spin-wave buses." "Progress in the miniaturization of semiconductor electronic devices has meant chip features have become nanoscale. Today's current devices, which are based on complementary metal oxide semiconductor standards, or 'CMOS,' can't get much smaller and still function properly and effectively," said engineering professor Kang Wang. The new technology makes use of the extra spin associated with electric charges to move data or power among computer components, directly encoding information into spin wave phases. By logically connecting multiple peripherals, the bus reduces power consumption, saves heat, and will ultimately enable smaller components because it does not need physical wires to send data. The engineers believe that nanoscale spin-wave packets will be able to conduct large-scale parallel operations, leading ultimately to the first viable, completely interconnected processor network on a single chip. The research departs from current spintronic designs, which depend on a charge transfer to exchange information, and have exhibited significant interconnect failings. The first of the three devices, presented at the ACM International Conference on Computing Frontiers, is a reconfigurable mesh linked with spin-wave buses. The device can perform high-speed, fault-tolerant algorithms by simultaneously sending multiple waves on each spin-wave bus with different frequencies. The second is an entirely connected concentration of working units with spin-wave buses, with each node capable of simultaneously broadcasting to every other node. The third is a spin-wave-based crossbar that can interconnect numerous inputs with numerous outputs, enabling secondary paths to be reconfigured in the event of a switch failure.
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Senator Calls for Summit on Privacy
IDG News Service (05/03/06) Gross, Grant

Technology is making it easier for federal agencies to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Wednesday during ACM's Life, Liberty, and Digital Rights conference in Washington, D.C. "The technologies available today offer tools that are better, faster, smarter with scales of magnitude that are unprecedented," asserted Leahy. "It's easier to delve more deeply into our private lives." However, Leahy blamed the policies of the U.S. government for current privacy concerns, rather than technology. Recent reports of spying on U.S. citizens and monitoring of Iraqi war protesters by federal agencies sparked the comments from Leahy, who also used the ACM gathering to call on Congress and the White House to convene a high-level summit on security and privacy, with citizens serving as active participants in the discussion.
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HyperTransport Stays Ahead of the Curve
HPC Wire (05/05/06) Vol. 15, No. 18,Feldman, Michael

Originally developed in 2001 to furnish a low-latency, high-bandwidth interconnect that improves on shared bus technologies, the HyperTransport open standard has drawn the attention of system designers who demand a high level of scalability and performance. The standard is maintained by the HyperTransport Consortium, a nonprofit that offers the technology to any vendor willing to become a member. Low-latency, high-speed interconnects are especially important in supercomputing, and the cost of proprietary interconnects has risen to become one of the most expensive parts of systems that rely on multiple commodity processors. HyperTransport is also used in other environments that require rapid data transfers, such as servers, network appliances, and even desktops. "Even though it's used in very high-end systems, it's also used in very low-end PC, with an eye to reducing the cost," said David Rich, president of the HyperTransport Consortium. "So the technology has to be very accepting of the quality of the signal integrity that's on the board. We can't specify a very expensive board manufacturing regimen to get the speed." With the recent 3.0 specification, HyperTransport can now be deployed for system-to-system connections, as well as linking processors to both peripherals and other processors. The processor native interface is a critical feature of HyperTransport, enabling its chip-to-chip connection to scale with the number of processors, unlike front-side bus designs, which demand adapters to link common buses such as PCI and AGP. HyperTransport supports buses of 2 to 32 bits in width, and the new specification can reach a maximum speed of 2.6 GHz. The improvements in HyperTransport have been introduced to increase both its functionality and speed to keep pace with the increasing speeds of CPUs and networks, while also adding flexibility to address the mounting specialization and complexity of computing systems.
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QIT: Quantum Hope or Quantum Hype?
The Register (05/04/06) Williams, Chris

While the momentum of quantum computing is building in the research community, the phenomenon is shrouded in confusion and its practical impact remains uncertain. "No one understands quantum theory," quipped the Nobel Laureate quantum physicist Richard Feynman. Quantum effects have so far seen their greatest use in cryptography, exploiting Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to provide theoretically perfect security. A hacker attempting to intercept quantum-encrypted information will automatically be detected, and the information he obtains will be of no value. While MagiQ and others have been developing quantum cryptography applications, the technology is still limited by the distance that it can travel, though developers at companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Toshiba, as well as MagiQ, are working to overcome those limitations within the next five years. Entirely quantum computers are farther down the road, and require qubits to simultaneously occupy two positions. Researchers are variously exploring the use of photons, ions, electrons, regular atoms, and silicon dots as qubits, capitalizing on the quantum effects of polarization, magnetism, and spin to store information. Most experts predict that the first heavy-duty quantum computer with significant processing power will only appear in the next 15 to 25 years. There is also the concern that the hype surrounding quantum computing could exceed its real or immediate potential, and that overselling the technology will condemn it to disappointment. At a meeting later this month, researchers from Cambridge and MIT will attempt to create quantum computing standards, which could boost the confidence of organizations considering investing in quantum cryptography.
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How Can IT Save the World?
CNet (05/04/06) Krazit, Tom

Participants in this week's World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) have gathered to discuss the global impact of technology, focusing in particular on access, IT and health care, privacy, and security. The WCIT, which convenes every other year, attracted more than 2,000 attendees from 80 countries who will vote on a variety of proposals that will become official recommendations of the WCIT and the World Information Technology and Service Alliance (WITSA). Participants generally agreed that governments and private industry must work together to implement global standards that ensure consistent deployment of policies and programs in countries around the world. Addressing the issue of access, MIT's Nicholas Negroponte was on hand to promote his One Laptop Per Child initiative to developing countries, while Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates touted his company's plan for a cell phone with the functionality of a basic PC. Governments need to do a better job of embracing technology themselves and introduce technology initiatives to promote the possibilities of IT to their citizens, said Don Tapscott, CEO of New Paradigm. Accenture COO Steve Rohleder noted that governments could speed technology adoption by relaxing telecommunications restrictions. Unisys CEO Joseph McGrath called on governments to take the lead in digital security, citing the government-issued smart cards in Malaysia that store citizens' passport and banking information and health records. While RFID tracking and smart cards are central to McGrath's vision of a more secure digital future, he also calls for a collaboration with privacy advocates who typically oppose such technologies. Participants also called for an extension of technology's reach into health care, where in the United States alone 90,000 people died last year due to human errors that could have been prevented by the strategic application of technology.
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Computer Science Education
IBM developerWorks (05/03/06) Booch, Grady

A recent Computerworld article in which several noted academics were interviewed on the future on technology education reinforced the gulf between academia and industry, writes IBM's Grady Booch. While he admits that his perspective is from the side of industry, Booch notes that he is heavily involved in the academic community and that he has been asked to give a keynote address at next year's ACM SIGCE conference. He argues that the focus in academia needs to be more on software deployment and practical applications, rather than on more theoretical computer science that often encounters limitations when applied to the real world. Software, not computer science, powers the world, he argues, and the research behind Google's search algorithms only enabled the company to dominate the search market because of concurrent advances in distribution and parallelism. The industry is in sore need of developers with the ability to create secure, concurrent, and distributed systems as the chip environment moves steadily toward multicore technology. While outsourcing is often invoked to explain the flagging interest in computer science among students, Booch argues that innovation and creativity--the essence of the joy of working in the industry--cannot be outsourced, and indeed must be emphasized when promoting the industry to students. Computer science also lacks a popular figure to serve as a spokesperson for the industry, Booch notes, lamenting that many students are often hopelessly soured on computer science by the time they reach college. He sees the argument for an innovative approach to popularizing the field, such as a television show, though he admits that the greatest breakthroughs in science have not come through gimmicky marketing campaigns, but through the pure joy of innovation for its own sake. Academia needs to do a better job of inspiring students to see the inner beauty of software, he concludes.
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Panoramic Imaging May Enhance Online Mapping
Technology Review (05/03/06) Greene, Kate

Researchers at Microsoft have developed software that provides a four-gigapixel panoramic image that could lead to more accurate and interactive online maps. The researchers demonstrated the application with a panoramic shot containing around 750 smaller images taken with an off-the-shelf digital camera. The program signifies Microsoft's increased interest in Windows Live Local, its online mapping platform currently in its beta stage. Live Local already provides what it refers to as Bird's Eye images of a few cities that offer an angled perspective of buildings, and the new software will enable viewers to look at wide vistas without having to reload another image into the browser. Microsoft is hoping that the more natural city views will distinguish it from Google and Yahoo! in the increasingly competitive online mapping environment. The angled view that provides images of storefronts and other building features is in sharp contrast to Google's street maps and top-down satellite images that are largely confined to the tops of buildings. The Microsoft team mounted a digital camera on a motorized platform atop the roof of a building, panning the scene as the camera takes a succession of images that are then processed and combined by stitching software. The software uses algorithms to search through the images for continuities such as sunlight reflected in windows or signature lines that it can use to stitch them together without creating the blurring effect that appears in current software. The software also compensates for changes in lighting by matching the brightness of an image with the picture taken immediately before, said Microsoft's Matt Uyttendale. "People love the detail of the [Bird's Eye] imagery," he said. "This should allow them to easily pan across the images."
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New Engineering Center to Transform Sensor Technology
Princeton University (05/03/06) Riordan, Teresa

A new NSF-funded engineering research center at Princeton University is expected to discover breakthroughs that will transform sensor technology and lead to new devices that can detect trace amounts of atmospheric chemicals. The center will aim to create devices that revolutionize the way that doctors treat patients and officials monitor air quality, while improving scientists' understanding of how greenhouse gases evolve and develop. The Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE) center will draw on the work of students and faculty members at six universities, and will also pursue collaborations with industry to bring products based on the research to market. "The sensors we are creating will be portable and easy to use," said Claire Gmachl, the center's director and an associate professor of electrical engineering at Princeton. "Today's state-of-the-art sensors are very sensitive, but require an expert to operate and are bulky and expensive. MIRTHE's vision is to make sensors with the same or better level of sensitivity at a fraction of the size and cost." Because it emits light in the mid-infrared portion of the spectrum, the quantum cascade laser is a critical technology for the center, enabling scientists to view certain atmospheric chemicals just as the human eye can see common objects with the aid of sunlight. "This center adopts a comprehensive, unifying approach pushes forward each of the necessary ingredients for a sensor: infrared sources, detectors, circuits, interconnects--all while working in close collaboration with end users," said Alexy Belyanin, assistant professor at Texas A&M University. The center will also focus on educating students to ensure that the U.S. workforce stays competitive by attempting to make science appealing to a broad range of underrepresented students. The center will focus on solving real-life societal problems and will sponsor outreach programs for both college and K-12 students.
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Sun to Make Java More Linux-Friendly
CNet (05/04/06) LaMonica, Martin

Sun Microsystems will announce changes to its licensing provisions at the upcoming JavaOne conference that will make it easier to package Java Runtime Environment with Linux. Sun is modifying the software that enables PCs to run Java in an effort to reach out to open-source systems, particularly Linux and OpenSolaris. "The intention is to make it easier for distributors and developers to get their hands on the runtime with the operating system," said Sun's Laurie Tolson. Sun has long faced pressure to make the entire Java platform open source to encourage development, and Sun has indeed made significant changes to the Java development process and made the source code more accessible, though it has stopped short of formally opening all Java. Sun is also likely to announce a software development kit for Java EE 5, the most recent upgrade to the Java server standard. Last year Sun announced the GlassFish project, a code-sharing initiative that seeks to create a Java application server built on the Java EE 5 standard. Software built on the standard will support the Enterprise Java Beans 3.0 standard that is designed to facilitate accessing data from Java programs and writing transactional systems. Java EE 5 has also been modified to accelerate Web development and the design of Web services. Prebuilt components packaged in software based on Java EE 5 for creating Web applications will use the AJAX Web development method.
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Ada Programming Language Gets New Lease of Life
VNUNet (05/02/06) Jaques, Robert

The International Standards Organization (ISO) later this year is expected to formally approve a proposal to amend the Ada programming language, which has a wide presence in mission-critical military systems. The proposal to improve the 1995 version of Ada recently gained unanimous approval from ISO's Ada Working Group (WG 9). A new interface that supports either a sequential or concurrent type for implementation would bring the concurrency and object-oriented features of Ada together. The addition of the Ravenscar Profile tasking subset would improve the safety and security of the programming language. The proposal also seeks to make Ada more expressive as a language, such as through the extension of the predefined environment with additional functionality, and the passing of nested subprograms as run-time parameters. "The new features draw on programming language design and user experience over the past 10 years, and should serve to increase Ada's attractiveness in applications where reliability, safety, efficiency and maintainability are demanded," says James Moore, convener of WG 9.
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Shared Theories on Thought Could Lead to Smart Machines
NIST Tech Beat (04/28/06) Blair, John

While machines can handle easy electronic commands such as start, stop, and grind, they are not adept at deciphering complex orders or applying common sense. Researchers known as ontologists that specialize in comprehending the thought process hope to overcome this hurdle. In March, ontologists who have made some of the most cutting-edge logic systems, consented at a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) workshop to share their latest ideas on such matters as space, time, and process. The vow to work together, detailed in a 10-item communique given out at the conclusion of the two-day workshop, could one day result in software programs that will outfit machines with mutually agreeable reference frames, allowing them to interpret and respond to commands with almost human common sense. Attempts to outfit machines with critical intelligence capacity have, so far, been fairly rudimentary. For example, software programs might give machines utilized to manufacture furniture significant comprehension of terms and reference frames employed in the furniture business. Such knowledge, referred to as "lower ontology," is of restricted use, though, and human operation is needed at almost each step of the manufacturing procedure. A machine fueled by programs that include broadened reference frames of such "higher ontologies" as space and price might be able to start making design and shipping decisions essentially by itself.
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Low Cost, High Tech
CITRIS Newsletter (04/27/06) Shreve, Jenn

CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) researchers are focusing on using affordable, off-the-shelf products, rather than creating new technology, in their effort to bring communications tools to developing nations around the world. Intel Research Berkeley has teamed up with the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) project to establish a videoconference link that enables rural villagers in Southern India to obtain consultations from doctors even though the Aravind Eye Hospital is 20 kilometers away. The researchers used off-the-shelf Wi-Fi cards, and made adjustments to software, antennas, and in other areas to create the long-distance wireless network. Patrick McGeer, who serves as university relations manager for Hewlett-Packard and liaison for CITRIS, is very optimistic about the potential of such self-forming networks in 10 to 15 years. "Places that had poor land lines are going to jump past analog land, past analog cellular, past digital cellular to VoIP and pure digital communications, with the entire world carried not from a central server but peer-to-peer over these mesh networks," says McGeer. CITRIS researchers are also working to create a speech-based interface to provide people in the Uttar Pradesh region of India with the English language skills necessary to use computer technology on cell phones. Other CITRIS participants have had some success in printing transistors and chips using transparent materials, a manufacturing development that promises to lower the cost of laptop screens.
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Women in IT: Catherine Jaktman
Computerworld Australia (05/01/06) McConnachie, Dahna

Females are not being encouraged enough to pursue careers in IT, according to Dr. Catherine Jaktman, vice president of the Australian Computer Society, in an interview with Computerworld. The reputation of IT remains that of being an industry for geeks, says Jaktman, who has a BA in Mathematics, an MS in Computer Science, and a PhD in Computer Science Engineering. "There needs to be more women working in IT to encourage girls to enter it," she adds. Jaktman says she does not know whether she chose IT because she was interested in technology, or whether she believed it would present opportunities to work in different industries and countries. In addition to Australia, she has worked in Sweden, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the United States, where her first job was a programming position with a large insurance company in Boston, followed by a programming position at a major bank in the city. Jaktman says she was good in math and science, and was encouraged to become a nurse or a teacher. She studied math at Northeastern University in Boston, and when the school launched a computer science program math students were encouraged to join the program. Jaktman, who wants to be a role model for women in the industry, says her position at ACS gives her more of an opportunity to reach out to young Australians who may be interested in IT.
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Getting Into the Minds of the Next IT Generation
Computerworld Canada (04/28/06) Ho, Vanessa

Companies looking to hire the most talented programmers graduating from universities today need to offer stimulating, challenging jobs, according to a recent poll of Canadian university students. "I want a [job] where I can solve a design problem that is challenging for me and engages my brain," said Frank Chu, a student at the University of Toronto pursuing a masters degree in computer science. Chu was one of the participants at a roundtable discussion held at the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest in San Antonio. Top students are interested in solving new problems, and avoid jobs where they will end up simply rehashing old programs. The students polled agreed that they are more inspired by complex problems such as the ones they faced at the ACM competition. Many Canadian students find themselves in the position of having to leave their home country to find desirable work in the United States. The students ranked salary as their second priority in searching for a job, but agreed that workplace culture is important as well. "If you are going to enjoy yourself on the job, you've got to like who you are working with. It would help to be at a place where you can play a game of foosball and not feel like you're running down the company clock," said Bartholomew Furrow, a physics masters student at the University of British Columbia who recently accepted a full-time position with Google in the fall, largely due to the company's culture. Many of the students said that they expect their experience at the ACM conference to help them in their career paths. "If you have ACM on you resume, it's pretty much a given that you're a good programmer," said Andrew Neitsch, a recent graduate with honors in math from the University of Alberta. For more information about the ACM's recent ICPC, visit http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc/
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U.S. Defends New Internet Wiretap Rules
Associated Press (05/05/06) Bridis, Ted

The White House is defending new federal rules expanding the applicability of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to include Internet phone and broadband services. Under the FCC-authorized rules, which go into effect next May, providers of such services must enable their equipment for court-ordered wiretaps; the rules originally required only wireless phones to be so enabled. A three-judge panel for the D.C. Circuit Court will consider on Friday a case filed by foes of the new rules that the United States has applied telephone-era regulations to new-generation Internet services in an inappropriate manner. The Justice Department said in court papers that subjecting the Internet phone industry to CALEA is necessary, otherwise the industry "could effectively provide a surveillance safe haven for criminals and terrorists who make use of new communications services." Critics of the new FCC rules--which include civil liberties and education groups--claimed the regulations are excessively broad and not consistent with Congress' goals when it approved CALEA, which provided an exemption for companies defined as information services. "Our significant concern is that if the FCC is essentially permitted to override the congressional exclusion, there are no limits," stated Center for Democracy and Technology lawyer John Morris.
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Legislative Ideas
Federal Computer Week (05/01/06) Vol. 20, No. 13, P. 26; Sternstein, Aliya

President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative promises to boost scientific research and development through a decade-long plan to raise basic research funding at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) by 100 percent, among other things. However, House Democrats say Bush's agenda is flawed: "The president's budget proposal for doubling the research programs at NSF, the DOE Office of Science and the in-house program at NIST--which is supposed to increase support for research in the physical sciences and engineering--is accompanied by significant cuts to the science programs at NASA and the tech base budget of [the Defense Department], which are also major sponsors of such research," notes House Science Committee minority leader and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). Such deficits should be addressed in current legislative proposals designed to spur innovation through more federal R&D investment, lawmakers contend. Gordon sponsors a trio of bills focusing on elementary and secondary school math and science education, basic federal agency research funding, and the reduction of U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The last goal, some innovation bills argue, could be achieved with the help of a new DOE organization modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, per recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences in a 2005 report. An R&D package that calls for the establishment of such an organization was introduced by bipartisan senators in January, and it also stipulates a doubling of the R&D tax credit and the creation of an incentive for employers who devote resources to worker training. Making the R&D tax credit permanent is a key provision of Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Joe Lieberman's (D-Conn.) National Innovation Act, which asks agencies to pledge 3 percent of their R&D budgets for grants for innovative, high-risk projects.
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Kids and Tech--Start Early
InformationWeek (05/01/06)No. 1087, P. 73; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

IBM and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) are offering free lesson plans, presentation materials, guidebooks, and topic overviews on programming and Web design to help high schools incorporate the activities into computer science, math, and science courses. The first modules available online will be object-oriented programming concepts for using Java to design computer games, Web page design and development using a storyboard application, and project-based learning for facilitating work among project teams. "These tools don't tell the teachers what to teach, but they're a resource to enhance their skills and put tools into the hands of students," says Chris Stephenson, executive director of CSTA. "The key is making the resources fun in building games and designing Web sites, but not lacking in rigor." The program is part of the Academic Initiative that IBM started in 2004 to help educators make use of open source and open standards technologies in the classroom. The offering comes at a time when the number of computer science students in colleges is on the decline, prompting fears of an IT shortage in the United States in the future, says Mark Hanny, vice president of the Academic Initiative. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 51 percent increase in jobs that demand science, engineering, and technical training through 2008. For more on CSTA, an ACM initiative, visit http://csta.acm.org
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The Fight for a Toll-Free Internet
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/05/06) Vol. 52, No. 35, P. A39; Foster, Andrea L.

The hot-button "network neutrality" issue is of critical concern to academic institutions, who fear that broadband providers' preferential treatment of certain types of content could hurt their efforts to deliver education and collaborate on research over the Internet. Colleges are lobbying Congress to require telecom companies to allow any kind of Web content or network applications, including those that rival their own offerings, to pass through their broadband pipes, and not to practice discrimination against certain types of network traffic. Meanwhile, telecom firms have been pushing lawmakers to reject net neutrality provisions, arguing that the profits they stand to reap by exacting a toll from users who want their online content to be prioritized and delivered expeditiously would recoup their costs for upgrading network infrastructure for consumers. There is consensus among academic leaders, consumer groups, and technology companies that splitting the Internet into faster and slower service tiers betrays the underlying principles of openness upon which the Web was founded, and could therefore threaten innovations and consumers' unrestricted access to critical information. At a Senate commerce committee hearing in February, Gary Bachula with the Internet2 consortium cited the high-speed Abilene network and the sophisticated applications it supports as an example of innovations that are being crafted by end users rather than phone or cable companies. "That requires an open-standards-based nondiscriminatory Internet," he argued. An anonymous college lobbyist reports that many college presidents are torn between two camps: Broadband carriers in whose good graces the presidents wish to remain because they often supply campuses with communications services; and distance-learning and research programs that could be seriously degraded by a tiered Internet.
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Testbeds Boost Cyber Security Research
Enterprise Networks and Servers (04/06) Kreidler, Tom

Although IT professionals have been using testbeds to measure the quality of specific, project-based technologies for years, researchers at the University of Southern California are now beginning to apply them to cybersecurity through the Cyber Defense Technology Experimental Research (DETER) project. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Homeland Security, one of DETER's central objectives is to improve government security by providing researchers with robust models of networks and network security features, enabling them to conduct security research without disrupting the Internet itself. "DETER provides the infrastructure, methodologies, and tools to provide scientific, repeatable experimentation across a wide range of cybersecurity technologies," said Terry Benzel, the program's director. "This is a unique contribution; most research and experimentation to date has been conducted in either small to medium scale research facilities or in dedicated privately-owned facilities, which do not lend themselves to repeatable analysis of a diversity of cyber technologies." The DETER testbed is an IT network of more than 200 nodes, enabling researchers to study the effects of malicious code on a sufficiently complex environment to realistically represent the Internet. In addition to creating and maintaining the testbed, DETER aims to develop software to support security experimentation and form a research community framed around the testbed. The idea of DETER was initially conceived almost three years ago as part of the government's broader initiative to shore up the nation's critical infrastructure. Projects such as DETER enable the government to harness the capabilities of the best minds and latest technologies in the business and academic communities, significantly expanding the base of support for testbed security research.
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