Sandia systems march in step

Sandia systems march in step

Software designed to help nuclear reactor operators comply with federal reporting rules is keeping systems identically configured at one Energy Department laboratory.

Westinghouse Electric Co. developed StatePointPlus to help nuclear utilities conduct their own engineering analyses, whose results are reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NRC requires any system that measures and logs reactor parameters to conform precisely to a reference computer used for independent verification and validation.

'Every byte in every way must be the same as on the reference computer,' said Larry Ciccone, chief systems specialist of the Monroeville, Pa., company.

StatePointPlus makes what Ciccone called a thumbprint of a computer, and a detailed one at that. It records hardware and software parameters and settings. It detects changes in registry and operating system settings. From a small agent installed on each client, it reports to a management console via TCP/IP messaging, not the Simple Network Management Protocol, 'which doesn't get you low enough' into the system's innards, Ciccone said.

Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., uses StatePointPlus to avoid manual configuration of hundreds of computers, said Darl Patrick, a senior staff member. Sandia oversees the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

'We had been configuring hardware and software manually for a weapons network,' Patrick said. 'Our configuration document was up to 100 pages long. It took six hours to configure one machine.'

When the lab started using Microsoft Windows NT, all the systems had to be revalidated every time a security or bug patch was downloaded.

'The task after NT rolled out became almost impossible,' Patrick said.

At Sandia's request, Westinghouse modified the software to make daily measurements from a single console and allow centrally controlled configuration changes to keep all client systems uniform, as required by the Energy Department. Getting a report about a particular system now takes only a minute, Patrick said.

StatePointPlus uncovered some surprising things about NT.

'NT systems morph by themselves. That was a total surprise for those from the Unix world,' said Tom Camden, a Westinghouse technology director.

StatePointPlus costs $28,000 for the server and about $200 per client. It is available for NT, Windows 2000 and Sun Solaris. Camden said the Navy is testing StatePointPlus in San Diego for configuration and security control.

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