Fortner fine-tunes gear for federal data mining

Fortner Software formerly Fortner Research has revamped its federal strategy and is launching a new data-mining product aimed at helping researchers at NASA and other agencies tap into large amounts of stored information.

Fortner which has supplied data visualization applications and Fortran development tools to scientists at federal agencies such as NASA and the Energy Department since 1995 is now focusing its efforts on a new product called Noesys.

Noesys which was designed as a data-mining product specifically for users of scientific data will now be the company's sole product. Noesys is one of the first general-purpose software applications for desktop computing that enables users to read write edit and analyze data formatted in Hierarchical Data Format according to company officials. HDF is an emerging file-format standard that is gaining acceptance by large producers of publicly available scientific data.

The Sterling Va.-based company will be targeting agencies such as NASA that have adopted the standard. NASA selected HDF as the scientific data standard for the Earth Observing System (EOS) which is part of the agency's massive Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) an $8 billion 15-year project to monitor long-term global environmental change.

While the commercial sector has standardized on Structured Query Language for storing data that will allow it to be universally accessed manipulated and viewed by a variety of users regardless of their computing platforms the scientific community has tended to use various customized data-storing methods said George Brandt Fortner's president and chief executive officer. As a result researchers are forced to modify existing software or create new applications to access the data.

But projects such as EOS which will not only collect data for 500 NASA programs but also for consumption by the scientific community at large are beginning to move toward the HDF standard creating a market for Fortner Brandt said.

"Our bet is that the HDF format will be a standard in each one of those technical environments so that the HDF standard will proliferate very quickly " Brandt said. "We're focusing on NASA first [and] then on all the associated scientists [in the defense oil gas and agriculture industries] that are going to be using that data. The idea of being able to go into those data structures and extract the relevant information is going to be unique to the scientific community. The real power in any data is the ability to access it manipulate it and visualize it."

Helping to mold the company's strategy to make inroads with Noesys is Ted Meyer Fortner's chief technology officer and the former NASA information architect for EOS. At NASA Meyer headed the team that selected HDF as a standard for EOS. Historically the type of high-resolution scientific data gathered by federal agencies such as NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey was only available to internal agency users Meyer said.

Now distribution models such as the Internet and CD-ROM make it possible for government and university researchers to share collected data with scientists worldwide. This creates the need for a standard that will let users regardless of their computing platform be able to get stored data with the point-and-click method Noesys is designed to provide Meyer said.

James Acker a member of the Ocean Color Data Support Team at NASA's Distributed Active Archive Center has used a demonstration version of Noesys. The Ocean Color Data Support Team is an MTPE program that will begin receiving satellite data related to ocean currents sometime this month. Because most NASA users associated with Acker's program are using Unix-based systems the team has been grappling with a method to make the data available to PC users worldwide. Acker said Noesys will give team members that capability.

"It's a very good presentation of the data " Acker said. "We've been struggling with ways of having users understand the structures of the files."

Fortner shipped Noesys client software in April and plans to ship its server product next month. Noesys is available for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows and Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh platforms. The company which may soon seek a General Services Administration contract for the data-mining product sells its products directly and via resellers.

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