Welcome to the November 19, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Accelerator Supercomputers Dominate Newest Green500 List's Top 10
Virginia Tech News (11/18/10)
IBM's BlueGene/Q prototype supercomputer topped the latest Green500 List of the world's most energy-efficient supercomputers, followed by the Tokyo Institute of Technology's TSUBAME 2.0 supercomputer. Eight of the top 10 spots on the Green500 List contain accelerator-based supercomputers, which use dedicated hardware to complete computations faster than central processing unit-based computers, and the overall energy efficiency that accelerator supercomputers provide took over the Green500. "Accelerator-based supercomputers on the Green500 List produce an average efficiency of 573 megaflops/watts, whereas the other measured supercomputers on the list produce only an average efficiency of 206 megaflops/watts," which makes accelerator-based supercomputers nearly three times more energy efficient than non-accelerated ones, says Virginia Tech professor Wu Feng. Accelerator-based supercomputers use either graphics processing units or IBM's custom PowerXCell 8i processor.
DARPA Issues Modeling Challenge
The Digital Manufacturing Analysis, Correlation and Estimation (DMACE) Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is offering a $50,000 award for developments that advance technologies in digital manufacturing (DM). DARPA is asking participants to develop models that can predict the output of DM machine-created products based on the corresponding machine inputs. "If a manufacturer can predict the reliability of a component part with a high degree of certainty, DM could be used for all sorts of system components," says DARPA's Gill Pratt. DM advances could help solve cost and time constraints that come with manufacturing the components used in U.S. Defense Department missions. The DMACE Challenge asks participants to develop an accurate DM output predictive model with a given set of input rules in a spherical design and a cube design. DMACE Challenge information and registration will be available on the DMACE Challenge Web site at www.DMACE.net.
Report Looks at How China Meddled With the Internet
New York Times (11/17/10) John Markoff
The United States-China Economic and Security Revision Commission (USCESRC) recently submitted its annual report, starting a debate concerning the motives of IDC China Telecommunications, a small Chinese Internet service provider that briefly rerouted about 15 percent of Internet traffic on two separate occasions last Spring. That information was retransmitted by China's state-controlled China Telecommunications, forcing data from the United States and other countries to pass through Chinese servers. The retransmission affected data from Congress, all branches of the U.S. military, the secretary of defense's office, and several U.S. federal agencies and privately-owned U.S. companies, according to the USCESRC report. "Evidence related to this incident does not clearly indicate whether it was perpetrated intentionally and, if so, to what ends," the report says. However, immediately following the incident, U.S. computer network experts met with Chinese engineers and reported that they had not provided a full description of what happened. There has been speculation that the Chinese used an encryption master key to break the encryption codes on some of the misdirected Internet traffic. The incident also could have been a test of a new cyberweapon.
Virus Could Ruin Many Industries' Control Systems
Associated Press (11/18/10) Lolita C. Baldor
Stuxnet, a worm that appears to target Iran's nuclear energy plants, can be tweaked to inflict damage on industrial control systems worldwide, and constitutes the most critical cyberthreat that industry is aware of, according to U.S. government officials and industry experts. They caution that as industries integrate networks and computer systems to boost efficiency, they become increasingly susceptible to Stuxnet. U.S. lawmakers say this growing threat makes it crucial that Congress move ahead on bills to broaden government controls and establish requirements to improve system safety. Symantec's Dean Turner recently told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that there were 44,000 unique Stuxnet computer infections worldwide and 1,600 in the United States. Stuxnet targets companies that employ Windows operating software and a Siemens-designed control system, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Sean McGurk says attackers can use information publicized about the worm to develop modifications that target other industries. The National Board of Information Security Examiners' Michael Assante urged lawmakers to fortify government authorities and consider imposing performance requirements and other standards on the industry to curb dangerous practices and boost system security.
Illinois Students Build 33 Teraflop Cluster From GPUs
NCSA News (11/11/10) Allison Copenbarger
A group of University of Illinois (UI) graduate students recently built a supercomputer and entered it in the Green500 competition, a ranking of the world's most energy-efficient supercomputers, and captured third place. The project was part of an independent study course led by UI professors Bill Gropp and Wen-mei Hwu. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications' Mike Showerman provided cluster-building guidance. "The idea is kind of original because it's not trying to use a big machine that consumes a lot of energy to be really fast," says UI student Chengyin Liu. "We were interested in efficient power consuming. I found the idea very interesting." The team used nontraditional materials, such as wood and Plexiglass, to mount the motherboards, which helped save money and minimize the system's footprint. They worked in UI's new National Petascale Computing Facility to build the supercomputer, which currently is called ECOG. The UI team recorded the supercomputer's performance at 33.6 teraflops and 938 megaflops per watt. "We will use the cluster to conduct studies on how real applications may need to be adapted to run well on such power-constrained systems," Hwu says.
Improving Economy Means Opportunities in IT
Computerworld (11/16/10) John Reed
Information technology (IT) hiring could be about to resurge in 2011, according to the recent Robert Half Technology Salary Guide 2011. Professionals who can help a company become more efficient and grow will likely be in the highest demand. The yearly guide discusses the roles and skills that will be in greatest demand and provides salary ranges for various IT positions. The economic downturn has forced companies to focus on projects and employees that deliver a high return on investment and can help manage assets. Companies are starting to resume postponed projects and launch new initiatives, increasing the demand for application developers, .Net developers, systems administrators, database administrators, and desktop support professionals. Demand for people with skills and experience in programming, information security, infrastructure support, business mind-set, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are anticipated to be high. Pay increases are expected for positions such as Web designers, ERP technical developers, business intelligence analysts, data modelers, and network managers. Industries such as business services, transportation, and health care are expected to have the greatest need for IT professionals.
Fujitsu Looks to Maximize the Performance of Next-Generation Supercomputers
Science Business (11/18/10)
Fujitsu Laboratories of Europe recently launched the Open Petascale Libraries (OPL) project, an international effort to create a mathematical library that can serve as a development platform for petascale-class supercomputer applications. The OPL project will involve several European universities and research institutions, and the open source code it develops will be publicly available to the computational science community. The OPL technology also will be used to help build a next-generation supercomputer called the K computer, which is being developed in Japan. The OPL library will work with next-generation supercomputers and x86 high-performance computing clusters. Fujitsu says the new code will allow application developers to increase petascale supercomputer performance. "Supercomputing today is an invaluable foundation for advancing science and technology, and the scientific and technological achievements and knowledge gained through supercomputing will benefit humanity on many fronts," says RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science's Kimihiko Hirao.
U.S. Sees 'Huge' Cyber Threat in the Future
Reuters (11/16/10) Phil Stewart
U.S. Defense secretary Robert Gates recently told members of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council that the threat from cybertechnologies will grow from "considerable" to "huge" in the future. Officials warn that hackers already steal enough information from government agencies, businesses, and institutions of higher learning to fill the U.S. Library of Congress many times over. In order to prevent cyberattacks against the private sector, the U.S. military is working to offer privately run Web sites the same protections that it uses for its own sites, Gates says. However, concerns about civil liberties and other legal issues make it difficult to use the Pentagon's security measures to protect domestic infrastructure from cyberattacks. As a result, the Obama administration has launched an initiative to allow for more cooperation between the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)--an effort that includes placing DHS privacy, civil liberties, and legal personnel at the NSA. Gates says this will allow DHS to "reach into NSA" in real time to "get the protection we need."
Cyber-Security Job Development Challenges Highlighted in Survey
eWeek (11/17/10) Brian Prince
The U.S. government faces a number of obstacles in its efforts to hire more cybersecurity professionals and build its cybersecurity workforce, according to an International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 survey. Of the nearly 700 information technology (IT) security professionals who took part in the survey, about 75 percent said the lack of a defined career path has contributed to the shortage of federal cybersecurity workers. Slightly less than 60 percent of the survey's respondents said that a lack of professional development plans has contributed to the shortage of federal cybersecurity employees. In addition, competition amongst government agencies, as well as competition between the public and private sectors, has made it difficult for the government to hire IT security pros, says (ISC)2 executive director Hord Tipton. Nearly 50 percent of respondents said the government's current information security certification programs were helping it develop a qualified cybersecurity workforce, but nearly half also said that there was a discrepancy between the programs and the specific cybersecurity skills that employees need to do their jobs.
ARMAR-III, the Robot That Learns Via Touch
PhysOrg.com (11/17/10) Lin Edwards
European researchers have developed AMAR, a robot that learns how to interact with objects by touching them. The robot is the result of the PACO-PLUS project and works on the idea of embodied cognition, which uses two-way communication between the robot's sensors and its processor. AMAR can solve problems that the programmers did not foresee. The robot's tasks can be divided into understanding verbal commands, creating representations of objects and actions, and using these to determine how to complete the command, says Karlsruhe Institute of Technology's Tamim Asfour. The researchers reduced the trial-and-error time by giving AMAR hints through programming and demonstrations from humans. Asfour says the project's main scientific achievement was to build a system that can form representations of objects at the sensory level and combine that with planning and two-way verbal communication. The PACO-PLUS project was funded by the European Commission's Cognition Unit with the goal of creating advanced robots that can operate in the real world and communicate with humans.
'Chaogates' Hold Promise for the Semiconductor Industry
EurekAlert (11/16/10) Jason Socrates Bardi
Researchers have created alternative logic gates, dubbed chaogates, by selecting desired patterns offered by a chaotic system, and using a subset to map system inputs to desired outputs. The process offers a way to use the richness of nonlinear dynamics to design computing devices with the capacity to reconfigure into a range of logic gates. "Chaogates are the building block of new, chaos-based computer systems that exploit the enormous pattern formation properties of chaotic systems for computation," says Arizona State University's William Ditto. "Imagine a computer that can change its own internal behavior to create a billion custom chips a second based on what the user is doing that second--one that can reconfigure itself to be the fastest computer for that moment, for your purpose." Ditto says chaogates offer advantages for gaming, secure computer chips, and custom, morphable gaming chips. He notes that integrated circuits using chaogates can be manufactured using existing production systems, and they can incorporate standard logic, memory, and chaogates on the same device.
ECS Researcher Highlights Need for Transparency on the Web
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (11/16/10) Joyce Lewis
The complex flows of information on the Web make it difficult to determine where information originates from, says University of Southampton professor Luc Moreau. "This is a challenge since we want to be able to establish the exact source of information, we want to decide whether information has been altered, and by whom, we want to corroborate and possibly reproduce such information, and ultimately we want to decide whether the information comes from a trustworthy source," Moreau says. The solution lies in provenance, which focuses on establishing that an object has not been forged or altered, and could apply to computer-generated data. He says enabling users to determine where data comes from and decide if it is trustworthy will lead to a new generation of Web services that are capable of producing trusted information. Moreau notes that systems would become transparent as a result of provenance. "Our aim, with the community of researchers, is to establish a standard method to ascertain the provenance of information on the Web," he says.
Rensselaer Team Shows How to Analyze Raw Government Data
RPI News (11/15/10) Marshall Hoffman; Mark Marchand
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Tetherless World Research Constellation have developed a method for finding relationships buried within government data, using mash-up technology that can combine it to identify new relationships. "We're working on designing simple yet robust Web technologies that allow someone with absolutely no expertise in Web Science or semantic programming to pull together data sets from Data.gov and elsewhere and weave them together in a meaningful way," says Rensselaer professor Deborah McGuinness. The approach also enables U.S. government agencies to share information more readily. The researchers developed a Web site that provides examples of what the approach can accomplish. The RPI researchers used Semantic Web technologies, enabling multiple data sets to be linked even when the underlying structure is different. "Data.gov mandates that all information is accessible from the same place, but the data is still in a hodgepodge of different formats using differing terms, and therefore challenging at best to analyze and take advantage of," says Rensselaer professor James Hendler. "We are developing techniques to help people mine, mix, and mash-up this treasure trove of data, letting them find meaningful information and interconnections."
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