Grid vendor opens fed unit

Platform Computing Inc., a grid computing specialist, has launched a federal subsidiary to help the Toronto-based company delve deeper into U.S. government accounts.

The company already counts NASA and the Defense and Energy departments among its customers. But the creation of Platform Computing Federal Inc. is intended to make it easier for the company to do business with government agencies that are concerned about security.

"After [Sept. 11, 2001], it became harder to go deeper into programs" as a company owned by foreign nationals, said Rene Copeland, president of Platform's federal unit and the parent company's vice president of government, life sciences and industrial manufacturing. He cited a recent case in which the company was unable to set up a meeting between a Platform expert and an Energy lab customer. The meeting did not happen because Energy officials would have had to report a contact with a foreign national, Copeland said.

Platform officials announced the federal subsidiary last month at the Supercomputing 2002 conference in Baltimore. Grid computing was among the developments showcased at the conference.

A grid is a collection of distributed computing resources running on a local- or wide-area network that appears to users as one large virtual computing system. Also featured was an Infiniband — a high-speed networking technology — interconnection demonstration involving Appro International, InfiniCon Systems and Lane15 Software Inc.

Secure Subsidiary

Platform Computing Federal, which will be based in Columbia, Md., will have its own board of directors, consisting of U.S. citizens. The board will include Oliver "Buck" Revell, former assistant director of the FBI; Adam Drobot, senior vice president of Science Applications International Corp.; and Harry Shoyster, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Once the subsidiary and its board are in place, Platform Computing Federal will pursue a facility security clearance. The clearance allows contractors to receive classified information so they can bid and perform sensitive government work. Contractors must have a sponsor to apply for a facility security clearance. The Defense Department is likely to be Platform's sponsor, Copeland said.

The clearance also will pave the way for Platform to pursue homeland security-related projects. Copeland said grid computing can address such homeland security challenges as database sharing and improved communications.

However, internationally based companies such as Platform face an arduous task in seeking security clearances, observers say.

"It is a time-consuming and somewhat labor-intensive process, particularly for an entity that is foreign-owned," said David Nadler, a partner with Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm.

Nadler said foreign-owned companies go through the same involved process as a domestic company pursuing a facility security clearance. But on top of that, a foreign-owned company must also satisfy the government that the risk associated with foreign entities can be mitigated.

Infiniband Demo

Infiniband adherents, meanwhile, presented the case for Infiniband's switched fabric-based input/output architecture, which has been slow to catch on.

At Supercomputing 2002, Appro, InfiniCon and Lane15 hosted a demo to contrast the performance of an Infiniband cluster with a Gigabit Ethernet cluster. The Infiniband cluster improved speed by three to four times over Gigabit Ethernet, the companies' officials said.

Arun Taneja, senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, said the Infiniband demonstration could help the technology make headway. Infiniband vendors should "focus energy on one or two solutions where the pain is the largest and where Infiniband shows its true colors," he said.

High-performance computing and parallel database environments are among the most promising applications for Infiniband technology.

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High performance computing

High-speed networking demonstrations at the Supercomputing 2002 conference included:

* Appro International (www.appro.com) demonstrated an eight-node cluster of Appro1224X Enterprise Class servers.

* InfiniCon Systems (www.infinicon. com) provided an InfinIO 7000 Shared input/output and Cluster System, and an InfiniServ 7000 10 gigabits/sec Host Channel Adapter.

* Lane15 Software Inc. (www.lane15.com) contributed its Fabric Manager.

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