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ACM TechNews
May 21, 2007

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Welcome to the May 21, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Cyber Assaults on Estonia Typify a New Battle Tactic
Washington Post (05/19/07) P. A1; Finn, Peter

Estonia, one of the most wired countries in Europe, was recently subjected to massive and coordinated attacks against the country's Web sites, including sites belonging to the government, banks, telecommunications companies, Internet service providers, and news organizations, according to Estonian and foreign officials. Computer security specialists called the attacks against the country's public and private electronic infrastructure unprecedented. The NATO alliance and the European Union have sent technology specialists to Estonia to observe and help during the attacks, which so far have disrupted government email and caused financial institutions to shut down online banking. Security experts and officials have warned that during times of war enemies may launch massive online attacks against a target, and the Department of Homeland Security has warned that U.S. networks need to be secured against al-Qaeda hackers. The attacks against Estonia provide an opportunity to observe how such assaults may be executed. Estonia's minister of defense Jaak Aaviksoo said the attacks were massive, well targeted, and well organized. Aaviksoo said about 1 million computers worldwide were used in Botnet attacks that began April 27. By May 1, Estonian Internet service providers were forced to disconnect all customers for 20 seconds to reboot their networks. By May 10, bots were probing Estonian banks, looking for weaknesses, and Estonia's largest bank was forced to shut down all services for an hour and a half. Estonian IT consultant Linnar Viik called the attacks an attempt to take a country back to the Stone Age, and said in the 21st century a country is no longer defined only by its territory and airspace, but by its electronic infrastructure as well.
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CACM 60th Anniversary Issue Tracks Impact of Computing Technology
AScribe Newswire (05/17/07)

Communications of the ACM commemorates the 60th anniversary of the ACM in the May 2007 issue with a special section that features the memories, findings, and accounts of historians, archivists, and early pioneers and volunteers of the association. ACM was founded in August 1947 by visionaries who desired to focus more intently on the emerging computing research following World War II. The issue follows the growth of computing over the years and its impact on society, as well as the role ACM has played in scientific computing, business computing, and information technology occupations. "It's important to look back to see where you've been to know where we want to go," says guest editor David S. Wise, computer science professor at Indiana University and a member-at-large of ACM's governing body. "By becoming cognizant of the history and impact of this critical technology, we are starting to understand how it has evolved and how we can determine the next new thing." The ACM History Committee, co-chaired by Wise and Richard Snodgrass, computer science professor at the University of Arizona, is behind the 60th anniversary issue, which also highlights the emergence of SIGGRAPH, the Special Interest Group that focuses on computer-generated graphics, arts, design, and entertainment. The changing trends in undergraduate education in computer science are also discussed in an article. The special section is available for free online at http://portal.acm.org/cacm60.
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Recreating the Feel of Water
Technology Review (05/21/07) Ross, Rachel

Researchers at Hokkaido University, in Sapporo Japan, have created a new way to simulate the feel of flowing water in two virtual-reality simulations--one simulates fishing and the other kayaking. Most research into haptics focuses on giving the user the feeling of touching a solid object, but Hokkaido University associate professor Yoshinori Dobashi says creating the sensation of liquids is a difficult task that uses complex mathematical formulas known as Navier-Stokes equations. These equations need to be running constantly to keep pace with the ever-changing movement of water. "The computation of the force field has to be completed and updated within 1/500th of a second," Dobashi says. "This is almost impossible." Previous attempts to recreate the feel of liquids were limited to two-dimensional models because 3D models were thought to be too processor-intensive to perform in real time, Dobashi says. However, he says this newest simulation is more realistic because it creates three dimensions. To create a real-time, 3D simulation, Dobashi and his team created a model that approximates real-world forces acting on a fishing rod or paddle by performing part of the calculations in advance. The forces of different water velocities and different paddle or fishing lure positions are precalculated, meaning only the velocity of the water as the user moves the paddle or rod needs to be calculated in real time. Once the velocity has been calculated, the appropriate forces are applied to the user's hand. Dobashi admits that forces have not been calculated for every possible rod and paddle position, but he hopes to fill in the gaps and create two-payer kayak races.
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I, Coach: What's in Store in Robotics
Computerworld (05/21/07) Anthes, Gary

Carnegie Mellon University computer science and robotics professor Takeo Kanade has done revolutionary work in computer vision, smart sensors, autonomous land and air vehicles, and medical robotics. Kanade believes that the popular view of what the future of robotics will be will soon change, as robots will be used to enhance human labor, acting as advisers and coaches, rather than replacing it. Within 10 years, computers may have the capacity to recognize emotions, gesture, and behaviors through vision sensors alone, Kanade predicts. Kanade has been working on "quality-of-life technology" that would particularly benefit the elderly and people with disabilities. Some of Kanade's ideas include what he calls inside-out vision, which instead of monitoring a subject from the external environment, the subject wears a small camera that allows the computer to observe a user's actions from their point of view, making it easier to predict intent and respond accordingly, such as opening a door when the computer detects a person moving directly at it. Computer vision could also be used to monitor assembly lines to ensure all parts are being properly installed, and alert the worker when they are doing something incorrectly. Kanade sees robots becoming a type of coworker, performing the tedious jobs such as moving parts to and from the product line, while humans continue handle the process and quality control. Kanade says home robots will be lightweight robots that mix entertainment, information, and mobility assistance. The home itself can become robotic as well, monitoring what a person is trying to do and helping, such as regulating food temperature while cooking. Kanade says two major challenges hinder the development of home and quality-of-life robots. The first is the capacity to recognize human needs, and the second is how to make robots capable of recognizing a mistake and responding faster.
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Rensselaer, IBM, and New York State Unveil New Supercomputing Center
Rensselaer News (05/18/07)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, working with IBM and the state of New York, has created the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI). The $100 million university-based supercomputing center is designed to continue work on nanoscale semiconductor technology and develop nanotechnology innovations in energy, biotechnology, arts, and medicine. The heart of the facility, an IBM Gene supercomputer, is capable of more than 80 teraflops, and when fully operational, the center will provide more than 100 teraflops of computing power. Rensselaer's vice president of information services and technology and CIO John E. Kolb said the ability to design and manufacture smaller and faster semiconductors is vital to maintaining Moore's Law, which states the number of transistors per a given area will double every 18 to 24 months. Currently, circuit components are about 90 nanometers wide, and according to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, the components need to shrink to 45 nm by 2010, 32 nm by 2013, and 22 nm by 2016. Such extremely small sizes result in different physical performances, requiring the use of supercomputers to design chips and predict their performance. CCNI will provide researchers with the tools necessary to perform a variety of computational simulations, ranging from interactions between atoms and molecules to modeling the behavior of complete devices. The 100-plus teraflop system is made up of massively parallel Blue Gene supercomputers, POWER-based Linux clusters, and AMD Opteron processor-based clusters, which makes CCNI one of the 10 most powerful supercomputer centers in the world, and the most powerful university-based supercomputer.
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Computing Grid Helps Get to the Heart of Matter
eWeek (05/20/07) Musich, Paula

The success of experiments performed using the world's largest partial accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), will greatly depend on a worldwide, high-speed network that will allow scientists to utilize 100,000 computers, primarily PCs, to process the mountains of data generated by the experiment. The network uses a 10G bps backbone to link 11 scientific data centers, creating the core of the world's largest international scientific grid service. Francois Grey, director of IT communication at CERN in Geneva, where the experiments will take place in November, said the LHN is a 27-kilometer ring underground that accelerates protons to high energy states and smashes them together, causing an explosion of particles. Huge underground detectors pick off the signals from the collision every 25 nanoseconds. The data will be stored at a rate of hundreds of megabytes per second. While the experiment is intended to answer questions surrounding what unknown particles exist in the universe, the LHC Computing Grid project will teach network engineers valuable lessons on running and managing one of the largest 10G-bps networks. The full network will include about 200 institutions in 80 countries, some with their own large data centers. The network will collect and process a predicted 15 petabytes of data per year for the 15-year length of the project, although data could be studied for many years after the experiments stop.
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New Software Can Identify You from Your Online Habits
New Scientist (05/16/07) Marks, Paul

Microsoft is developing software that will be able to determine the identity of a Web user by analyzing an individual's history of browsing the Web. Speaking at the World Wide Web 2007 Conference in Banff, Canada, last week, software engineer Jian Hu from Microsoft's research lab in Beijing and colleagues said analytics software can make use of a wide range of profiles, such as women's preference for searching the Web for health, medical, and religious information, to perform a probabilistic analysis. Raw information could be obtained from different sources, including cookies, a PC's cache of Web pages, or proxy servers for keeping records of Web surfing history. The software is already accurately guessing gender and age. The researchers plan to continue to refine the software with an eye toward accurately guessing occupations, qualifications, locations, and names as well. "Because of the hierarchical structure--language, country, region, city--we may need to design algorithms to better discriminate between user locations," says Hu's colleague Hua-Jun Zeng. The research has raised concern among some industry observers who believe the software would violate privacy protections in many countries.
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A Thinking Person's Thinking Robot
Burlington Free Press (VT) (05/18/07) Johnson, Tim

University of Vermont assistant professor of computer science Josh Bongard is currently best known for his work on a robot called "Starfish" that is able to sense when it has been damaged and create a new way to walk, compensating for the damage. Bongard's revolutionary work on robotic self-awareness and artificial intelligence goes beyond computer science and incorporates aspects of biology, psychology, neuroscience, mathematics, economics, and even philosophy. Bongard sees self-awareness as having a sense of one's own body, and Starfish is apparently capable of that. Bongard and his Cornell University collaborators assigned Starfish the task of moving across a surface without telling it how to move. Instead, the robot was programmed a "series of playful actions" to test the locomotive possibilities for itself, much like the movements of a human infant, according to Bongard. After learning to walk successfully, the researchers removed a part from one of its legs, rendering the leg useless, and the robot went through another learning process to figure out how to move. Instead of hobbling on three legs, as its creators expected, Starfish basically dragged itself along. Currently, Bongard is working on developing a program that can learn what an individual's preference is and predict other preferences that person will have. Bongard is also using computer simulations to create other robots capable of learning, a feature that would be highly useful in dangerous places, disaster sites, and on other planets. Bongard knows that a robot capable of learning and adapting is controversial, but he believes there is a difference between being self-aware and being conscious. Bongard says that it is theoretically possible to create a conscious robot, but he is unsure if it would have any practical value.
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In Future, Everything Will Be a Computer
National Post (CAN) (05/19/07) Medley, Mark

Hundreds of researchers, futurists, computer scientists, academics, and innovators who convened in Toronto discussed the third wave of computing, known in many circles as "pervasive computing," in which miniature computers will be embedded in virtually everything, making an impact on practically every aspect of our daily lives. "Everything could be a computer, and could be used or adopted for a purpose by any individual," posited University of Toronto computer science professor Khai Truong. Applications showcased at the conference included "dynamic book recommendations" in which the act of picking up a book triggers the transmission of reviews and related titles to the consumer's cell phone; kitchens and utensils equipped with sensors so that a knife, for instance, can determine what kind of food it is chopping; remote control of household appliances by cell phone; and ad displays that customize themselves to the time of day or the person passing by. But the advantages of pervasive computing could be bought at a reduction of our personal privacy, which raises the specter of Orwellian government surveillance and even more insidious acts of kidnapping, theft, and stalking if every person's whereabouts are public knowledge, to name just a few examples. Adam Greenfield, author of "Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing," sounded a warning that pervasive computing technology could give rise to "unpredictable and undesirable emergent behaviors," and outlined a series of guidelines that must be followed to prevent this. The guidelines recommend that the technology be self-disclosing and default to harmlessness, deniable, and conservative of both face and time.
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Untangling the World Wide Web
Globe and Mail (CAN) (05/19/07) Dreher, Christopher

The remarkable growth of Internet users and applications has been accompanied by a concurrent rise in the hazards and frustrations of going online, leading mavens such as Internet pioneer and MIT researcher David Clark to conclude that "the situation is not getting better, it's getting worse." This state of affairs is giving rise to a philosophy that promotes a complete rethink of the Internet's architecture, and a group of Stanford University computer scientists formally launched the Clean Slate Design for the Internet Project in April with this goal in mind. "Instead of trying to fix problems for today, we're trying to figure out what the Internet should look like in 15 years," explains Clean Slate research director Nick McKeown, who points out that the ideas on which Internet technology was originally founded have gone unchanged for four decades; this is in contrast to the other high-tech fields, where innovation is continuous. National Science Foundation programming director Guru Parulkar will take over the Clean State Design project in August, and the new concepts stemming from the effort will be tested on Parulkar's Global Environment for Network Innovations beta network at a cost of between $300 million and $400 million. Among the advantages that could come from Clean Slate is faster and more secure data communication between handhelds thanks to improved wireless spectrum allocation; the fulfillment of converged TVs/DVD players/home computers' potential; elimination of the costs associated with preventing spam, malicious hacking, and other threats; and broader physical/virtual world interaction. Experts say the biggest challenges facing the creation of a "clean state" Internet are non-technical. McKeown says the network infrastructure is unprofitable and lacks economic sustainability, while striking a balance between privacy and security issues is another area of concern.
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Tough, Tech-Smart--And Female
Forbes (05/17/07) Rosemarin, Rachel

Women have not made the same progress in technology as they have in the business sector, in fact it appears that women have regressed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2000, 23.4 percent of network and computer system administration jobs belonged to women, but in 2006 that number dropped to 16.6 percent. The National Center for Women and Information Technology also reports a decrease in the number of women receiving undergraduate computer science degrees; in 1985, 37 percent went to women, but only 21 percent did so in 2006. However, while the number of women in technology may be declining on the whole, women are holding a slightly larger percentage of leadership roles in technology than before. Seven percent of CIOs were women in 2000, but 9 percent were women at the beginning of this year, according to Sheila Greco Associates. Although a handful of tech companies have women in major leadership roles, if women continue to leave computer technology divisions before they have an opportunity to be promoted to high-ranking technical positions, the number of female CIOs and their counterparts will drop, along with other positions. Cora Carmody, CIO at defense contractor SAIC, says some women in IT are not exposed to the crucial management skills necessary to become an executive in an IT position. Some tech-oriented women have left careers in corporate IT and have explored startups and venture capital funding, although in 2006 only 4.08 percent of venture funding went to tech startups with female chief executives, down from 5.72 percent in 2001. Victoria Usherenko, managing partner at head hunter agency Liaison Search Associates, says that peer support needs to continue beyond education and into careers, as women do not have the same network of peers that men do to recommend each other, which artificially keeps the number of female IT executive down.
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Cell Phones Now Helping to Guide the Blind
Computerworld (05/14/07) Kaza, Juris

Swedish researchers completed and tested a prototype of a voice-based navigation system for the sight-impaired and the blind in late 2006, but say improvements must be made in several areas, including positioning. "Standard GPS is not good enough, so we are evaluating other positioning technologies, including some rather accurate dead-reckoning software to account for the user's movements, and, eventually, the use of RFID and Bluetooth tags on certain objects and obstacles," says Tomas Uppgard, CEO of local firm Mobile Sorcery. The researchers are developing a system that would allow users to receive voice advisories from a mobile phone. The prototype makes use of a Nokia 6300 Symbian phone with earphones and a separate GPS unit linked to the phone through Bluetooth SIG technology. The voice guide will call out, for example, an upcoming turn and alert the user, for instance, if a vehicle is blocking the crosswalk, as well as provide updates to other users and accept data entered by users. "The metaphor is to give them a spoken map and enough detail to make their own decisions," says Uppgard. Further testing is scheduled for the summer, with full deployment projected for 2010.
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Reaping Results: Data-Mining Goes Mainstream
New York Times (05/20/07) P. BU3; Lohr, Steve

Data-mining programs are being used by an increasing variety of professions as computing and mathematical analytics are being easily adapted for individual situations. Shortly after becoming chief of police in Richmond, Va., Rodney Monroe implemented a program that, in addition to collecting traditional police information such as emergency calls and police reports, uses neighborhood demographics, payday schedules, weather, traffic patterns, and sports events to predict where crimes might occur. The program found a high number of robberies in Hispanic neighborhoods on paydays because a large percentage of the population used check-cashing services instead of depositing the money in a bank, making them easy targets for robberies. The crime rate in Richmond dropped about 20 percent during the first year of using the program. Productivity research is also using data mining to examine new areas that were once considered difficult to measure. Data mining software, for example, allows employers to collect information from office workers who handle ideas and information from customers, suppliers, colleagues, and marketers. A company can establish a system that tracks email traffic, instant messaging, and other digital communications, removing personal information for security and privacy, to study the flow of work and ideas through social networks. Meanwhile, retail chains, including Wal-Mart and Kohl's, are using computing and math analysis to accurately predict where to send products, such as what size cloths should go to what stores. Appliance maker Whirlpool uses analytics software to automatically scan warranty reports, manufacturing, supplier, sales, and service data to cut warranty costs and improve quality.
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U. of I. Intends to Play Key Role in Nationwide Digital Humanities Effort
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (05/09/07) Lynn, Andrea

The University of Illinois plans to become a leading player in a national initiative to "digitize the humanities" by designing and building environments where scholars can carry out research across a wide spectrum of literature through the use of high-performance computing tools in shared digital networks. Dean of U of I's Graduate School of Library and Information Science John Unsworth has netted a pair of major technology grants from the Mellon Foundation to lead multi-institutional digital humanities projects. One grant is a two-year, $1 million allocation for the Metadata Offer New Knowledge (MONK) text-mining collaboration, which integrates and extends the Nora and WordHoard projects to build "an inclusive and comprehensive text-mining and text-analysis tool-kit of software for scholars in the humanities," according to Unsworth. He also serves as one of the co-principal investigators on the Software Environment for the Advancement of Scholarly Research (SEASR), an infrastructure project that received a $1.2 million Mellon grant in March. The goal of SEASR is to increase the usability of content collections through the merging of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications' Data-to-Knowledge and Unstructured Information Management Architecture into an analytical framework that can be easily learned and adapted by researchers across all disciplines. Unsworth says the MONK and SEASR projects are complementary. He is also involved with the $2.6 million ECHO DEPository digital preservation research and development project. Unsworth notes that one of the major barriers to the advancement of digital humanities development is that the field "is often still regarded with suspicion at the department level as somehow less than scholarly."
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DNSSec Too Costly, Difficult to Use, IGP Hears
Washington Internet Daily (05/18/07) Vol. 8, No. 96, Piper, Greg

The Internet Governance Project addressed the issue of the DNS Security Extensions protocol (DNSSec) during a meeting that was attended by Matt Larson of VeriSign's naming and directory services unit. Larson explained that there has not yet been much demand for DNSSec, and it would require a multimillion-dollar investment from VeriSign; thus the company is "looking at this landscape very carefully." Speakers at the meeting said IT departments would not be able to handle the litany of technical problems posed by DNSSec, which could result in an entire root zone being disabled. NIST's Scott Rose predicted that it would take a massive, headline-grabbing DNS attack to produce substantial momentum for the adoption of DNSSec. Rose noted the long odds that NIST faces in trying to bundle DNSSec with the .gov domain. The managers of ccTLDs were put off by the Department of Homeland Security's recent pronouncement about ensuring that the master root key remains under American control.
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Microsoft Man Seeks to Re-Engineer the Web
Inquirer (UK) (05/16/07) Grossman, Wendy M.

Microsoft's Kim Cameron wants to create a mechanism for knowing who you are talking to on the Web and is working to re-engineer the Internet. His first big break came last year with the publishing of the paper "The Laws of Identity" and proposals for A Privacy-Compliant Identity Metasystem, which serve as the foundation for the CardSpace identification technology that is found in Windows Vista and is available for download for XP. The technology is in beta at many sites and is "beginning to ramp up," says Cameron. CardSpace makes use of the Information Card, which is generated securely on the user's machine, for authentication, and it can be selected from a graphical display. The completion of the authentication process involves the production of a security token by the card, rather than sending information in the card to the site. The graphical display verifies information such as the owner of the site and the location of the underlying business. There are some concerns about the idea of an "identity layer," such as its threat model and use case. Cameron was asked why Microsoft did not join the Liberty Alliance during the recent ACM conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy, and he said the widescale vendor initiative was different in that "it doesn't give the user their own agent under their control."
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What Is the Analogue for the Semantic Web, and Why Is Finding One Important?
University of Southampton (ECS) (05/15/07) schraefel, m.c.

The growth of the Semantic Web depends on the provision of an analog that helps people comprehend it as well as identifies the potential opportunities it can facilitate, and m.c. schraefel of the IAM Group proposes a model based on the typical framework for Web interaction. She maintains that the Semantic Web can be envisioned as a Notebook + Memex, in comparison to the Page + Links representation of the current Web; this model presents new challenges for basic human/computing interaction. The notebook and the memex focuses on engagement with, development of, and cooperation with information, as work in progress. "While the Semantic Web has the strong Memex-y potential to support dynamic and automatic associations across inter-related domains, the notebook emphasizes both the more writerly and the more personal side of engaging with information," schraefel writes. "The notebook as model also says that it is critical for new Semantic Web tools to support this creative, explorative process directly and explicitly." She explains that social networks of data sources that are of critical interest to many considering the Web's structure are a missing element in projections of future human/computing interaction, which is why a new paradigm of the next-generation Semantic Web must consider not just computing's use/reuse paradigm and machine-produced analysis/inference, but human voices as well. "If we believe that this intermixing of voices and intermixing of idea generation represents an important set of axes and continuums to support, then our vision will need to be for tools to support these kinds of interactions--interactions we carry out regularly in the physical world, but are less well supported in the digital space," schraefel concludes.
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Perils and Pitfalls of HPC Spotlighted at LCI Conference
HPC Wire (05/18/07) Vol. 16, No. 20, Montry, Gary

The risks of high performance computing were highlighted at this year's Linux Cluster Institute (LCI) Conference, with Horst Simon kicking off the first day with a discussion about HPC's current status, hardware architecture, and the political aura surrounding the effort to construct the first petaflop machines. Sandia National Laboratory's Robert Ballance presented a keynote speech concerning the assembly and performance issues of Red Storm, given the fact that the machine was bigger than any previous machine the institution had created. There was an intense focus on parallel I/O systems and the problems of inducing them to scale on large cluster systems, illustrated by the fact that some of the tests can be so lengthy that the production system would not be available for an unacceptable amount of time, which forces I/O system administrators to carry out simulations of the I/O systems on smaller clusters. Hardware and software sessions comprised the second day of the LCI conference, with emphasis on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's HPCS program and the presentation of various HPC machine descriptions, including Sandia's upgrade to Red Storm. The third day of the conference began with Peter Ungaro's keynote presentation in which he outlined Cray's plan to compete in the HPC marketplace with future generations of clusters that feature 10,000 to 1 million cores, and projected the emergence of a 1 million-core system within half a decade. He argued that commodity Linux clusters are too generalized to be reliable, scalable, and available when scaled past approximately 1,000 sockets, while Cray believes the successful scaling of future megaclusters will depend on custom value-added simplifications supplied by vendors.
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