Glitch-free systems are consortium's goal

NASA has assembled a consortium of universities and corporations in a multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort to eliminate errors in the software that drives critical operations ranging from power stations to the space station.

"As software becomes embedded in our lives, it has to be "on' all the time," said Raymond Lane, former president of Oracle Corp. and now a general partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, an information technology-oriented venture capital firm.

"The High Dependability Computer Consortium's focus is on how we prevent failure, get 100 percent working software," Lane said Monday during the first gathering of consortium members at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Sunnyvale, Calif. NASA is developing a research park at Moffett Field.

Aerospace, health care, transportation and electric power production are among the critical systems that demand glitch-free software, said Lane, whose company is among the dozen corporations and academic institutions contributing brainpower to the consortium.

In January, NASA awarded Carnegie Mellon University $500,000 to develop the consortium, which is part of the university's plan for establishing a location in Silicon Valley. The Carnegie Mellon facility will be one of Moffett Field's early tenants.

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., also intend to establish facilities in the planned 213-acre park, said Michael Marlaire, chief of development and communications at Ames.

The consortium will hold its first meeting in mid-January, when 50 to 70 computer systems experts begin developing strategies for tackling critical computer systems problems.

Ames director Henry McDonald said the consortium is potentially a multimillion-dollar investment. "It's well within the possibility that it would exceed [the] $10 million level in the future," he said.

"I see the basic work belonging in the public sector, and corporations will extract from that a corporate strategy and programs and take them and turn them into in-house programs as they see fit," McDonald said.

The consortium's major goal is to eliminate error, said representatives from several of the institutions attending the program at Ames.

"The time has come for all of us in academia, industry and government to get serious about our responsibility to make computer systems safe," said James Morris, dean of Carnegie Mellon {} School of Computer Science. "How often have you asked yourself, "Why can't a country who put man on the moon create a plug-and-play printer driver?'

"Well, a place to start answering that question is with the agency who put a man on the moon," Morris said.


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