Powerful new tools replace crystal ball predictions with deep and actionable insights.
Stories by John Edwards
September 2008 will certainly go down as one of the blackest months in Wall Street history. Venerable financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG abruptly vanished or were radically overhauled. Investors lost loads of money -- in some cases, fortunes -- and ordinary taxpayers are now finding themselves funding an industry bailout that could cost a staggering US$700 billion, perhaps even more.
Just call the researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Advanced Computing Laboratory "blade runners." That's because the New Mexico-based facility has replaced its conventional parallel cluster supercomputer with blade servers, compact card-based devices that promise to replace standalone servers.
For Los Alamos, blades offer a less costly and more reliable way of handling massive, parallel processing-based computations, such as simulations of galaxy formations and supernova explosions. "In general, it's a more efficient solution with respect to space and energy consumption," says Wu-chun Feng, leader of the laboratory's Research and Development in Advanced Network Technology (Radiant) team.
As far as inventions go, a glass battery sounds about as promising as a concrete basketball or an oatmeal telephone. But Roy Baldwin claims that his unique power source could someday energize everything from mobile phones to automobiles.
Baldwin's battery is based on Dynaglass, an inorganic polymer that's allegedly stronger than steel, yet flexible enough to wrap food. Baldwin, a retired mechanical engineer, says Dynaglass was developed in the mid-1990s, but some of the technology is based on research by the Soviet military and space programs. He learned about the material while helping a friend ship medical supplies to Russia. "Later on, we discovered that the material could be used to store energy," says Baldwin, who then formed a company Columbus, Ohio-based Dynelec to explore the technology's potential.
When Nassir Navab talks to inanimate objects, they usually answer him. That's because Navab, a Siemens researcher, helped develop a system that gives industrial equipment the power to vocally answer questions posed by humans.
The technology is designed to provide an easy way of checking on the operational status of various gadgets, including valves, pumps, switches and motors. Equipped with a wearable or mobile computer containing a built-in camera, a user could determine the status of any piece of equipment simply by walking around the factory floor. An 802.11b wireless network transfers data from the equipment to a central server and from the server to the user. A microphone-equipped headset and voice-recognition and synthesis software supply the user interface.
When an alarm goes off, George Tumas doesn't panic. The senior vice-president of Wells Fargo Bank's Internet Services Group faces potential catastrophe calmly, thanks to his investment in a performance management tool.
The latest such tools -- also known as component and service-level agreement management tools -- are designed to help IT departments keep a close eye on critical Web-enabled systems. As these systems grow larger and reach outside the enterprise to customers, partners and suppliers, the need to keep performance at the highest possible level becomes ever more pressing. That's not always easy, however. "The new Internet applications have multiple tiers -- they're distributive and complex," says Dennis Gaughan, a software industry analyst at AMR Research, a technology research company in Boston. "There's just an increased demand for tools to measure performance and to make sure that the applications are performing to meet the requirements of the business."
Most biological viruses have a nasty reputation. But scientist Angela Belcher believes that some viruses can be guided into performing a useful task: building high-tech materials.
Early in 2001, Michael Dreiling faced a stomach-churning problem. The vice president of technology for Quadrem U.S., a Dallas-based global electronic marketplace serving the mining, minerals and metals industries, needed to find a way to seamlessly integrate data from more than 1,000 companies.
Traditional middleware products could take care of the nuts-and-bolts job of converting files spewed out in EDI, legacy data formats and various flavors of XML. What they couldn't do was discern the meanings contained within the files. To cure his data integration indigestion, Dreiling looked into a new type of middleware: semantics-based integration tools.