FOSE: The floor show

More than 500 companies are exhibiting products at this week's FOSE trade show in Washington. Seeing all of them and attending the show's 185 technology education sessions is probably more than any government IT professional can pull off. Sometimes, you have to pick and choose.


You can expect to see plenty of technology that addresses agencies' most pressing IT issues, from wireless and mobile systems, to network security, to enterprise storage. And this year, radio frequency identification steps out of the shadows where niche technologies lurk with its own dedicated pavilion for highlighting hardware and software platforms, case studies and best practices.


A few of the new products on display caught our attention, but they are in no way the only significant technologies on the show floor. So put on your comfortable shoes and collect as many vendor pens as you can carry. And remember, behind that big exhibit from the company you already know may be a lesser-known product that's right for your agency.


Get a load of the Vista

If you haven't gotten your hands on the current beta version of Microsoft Windows Vista, the company will be showing off its upcoming operating system at FOSE.
And as nice as a booth demo is, you can dive more deeply into some of the enterprise details of Vista during a couple of Microsoft sessions off the show floor.


On Thursday afternoon, Microsoft will offer preview sessions of the new enterprise management, performance and reliability features in Vista. Among our favorites is the External Memory Drive, which effectively turns one of those USB thumb drives into system memory. Also keep an ear out for details about related SuperFetch technology, which could make use of the USB memory to accelerate application launches. SuperFetch learns what programs you use most (and even when you use them) so it can preload them into memory.


And if it's not on the agenda, ask about the new Network Diagnostics Framework, which essentially is meant to help users troubleshoot network connection problems on their own. The framework is supposed to be able to resolve TCP/IP-related issues such as incorrect default gateways, IP addresses and DNS settings.


What time is it?

Anyone out there have a Windows clock in their system tray that doesn't quite jibe with news radio time, the clock on the wall or any other measure? Probably no biggie, but at the enterprise network level, time accuracy can be an oft-ignored link in the security and compliance chain. And your PC clock should definitely jibe with a server somewhere.



This week Spectracom Corp. of Rochester, N.Y., is taking the wraps off its 9200 Series of NetClock time servers. NetClocks use the Network Time Protocol to synchronize system clocks over packet-switched networks, which will be increasingly important as agencies build better network defenses.


'A lot of the newer authentication standards use a time-based stamp,' said Spectracom marketing manager Tim Klimasewski. 'So if there's someone sniffing around the network, they can't see a ticket, let's say, to authorize someone to a particular server and then use it later.'


The 9200 Series supports NTP Version 4, which enables NTP server peering. In a peer-to-peer situation, NetClocks can speak to each other to enhance reliability. Company officials said the new NetClocks have also been certified to work in IPv6 environments. Pricing starts around $3,000 per server.


The other wireless mesh

You probably know that companies such as Motorola Inc. and Tropos Networks Inc. are major players in the current rush to string up wireless mesh networks in cities around the country. But Tempe and Chandler, Ariz., have gone another route. And while it's too early to say whether one solution is better than another, more wireless mesh options are always better than fewer.


Strix Systems Inc. of Calabasas, Calif., supplied the mesh network that covers Tempe/Chandler's roughly 112 square miles (the Chandler portion of the project is still being built).


The company this week is exhibiting the Access/One modular devices it used in the deployments.


Kirby Russell, Strix's director of product marketing, said Access/One differs from other mesh nodes because it offers considerably lower latency. 'One to three milliseconds is about our average,' he said. 'That allows us to really empower voice over IP-type applications.'


Access/One was designed to accept multiple radios, so easy scaling for more capacity could be a significant benefit for municipalities.


The products employ techniques such as sectorization and channel reuse, which can help improve coverage and allow high-speed roaming. Typically, an Access/One node has at least three radios, each dedicated to one of three basic functions of a mesh network'backhaul ingress and egress, and client access. Because the radios don't have to switch states, Strix officials said, they perform better.


When Google won't do

Building a better enterprise search capability could be as easy as ordering a Google Search Appliance or two. But a scan of GSA Schedule 70 might turn up other, less obvious options worth considering.



Thunderstone Software LLC of Cleveland this week is demonstrating Thunderstone Search Appliance Version 6, which came out last November. Doran Howitt, Thunderstone's vice president of marketing, said the product can crawl more data sources than before.


'It has the ability to crawl a file system,' Howitt said. 'Now any search solution can index files if it can talk to a Web server ... but lots of organizations have intranets with file servers that are not Web-accessible.' The Thunderstone appliance can crawl those file servers. It does not need HTTP; it can use the native network operating system.'


The Version 6 product includes what the company calls DBWalk technology, which can index relational database content, including from Oracle, SQL Server, Sybase and PostgreSQL. DBWalk is based on the Java Database Connectivity API. The appliance also can accept data feeds that might not normally be crawlable.


Howitt said GSA pricing starts at about $9,000 for 250,000 documents. Support for a million documents would run agencies about $18,000. Officials said the State Department, Forest Service and Federal Courts are among Thunderstone's government customers.


Even better backups

Idealstor of Gaithersburg, Md., specializes in disk-to-disk backup solutions that use high-speed, ejectable disks instead of tape. The lure, according to the company, is that agencies get the speed of disk-based backup without sacrificing the portability of tape.


The GCN Lab tested Idealstor's FrankeNAS product last year and was indeed impressed by the unit's performance (visit GCN.com and type 546 in the GCN.com/box).



While Idealstor is expected to have the FrankeNAS at FOSE this week, it's the company's iBac 3.0 for Windows software, released earlier this year, that we're interested in. The iBac product is basically backup software like you might buy from Veritas (now part of Symantec), but it's different in several ways, according to Ben Ginster, Idealstor's channel marketing manager. The most important feature of the new version is its ability to encrypt the folders it backs up using DESX or 3DES algorithms. The software also includes something called a Quick System Recovery disk, which holds a scaled-down version of Windows Server 2003 and can boot up servers when they fail.


In situations that don't require encryption, iBac software backs up files in their native file formats ('How it looks on your server is how it's going to look on our drives,' Ginster said), making it easier to find and restore files. In addition, after a full backup, iBac subsequently only backs up changes to the data and merges them with the full backup.


Calling all cars

Electronic notification solutions have flourished in the post-9/11, post-Katrina, disaster response-driven era. Federal, state and local agencies want better automated ways of getting the word out to a variety of devices when something bad happens.


McLean, Va.-based MorganFrankin Corp. this week is rolling out something called Beacon (for Business Enterprise Alerting and Continuity), which the company describes as a knowledge management tool that incorporates emergency notification capabilities to provide a seamless picture of operations. Chris Herndon, MorganFrank-lin's CTO, said today's notification platforms are not second nature to the professionals who might need them. By integrating alert technology into a larger system, he hopes agencies will have a better user experience.


The notification software that MorganFranklin integrated into Beacon is e.Notify from Amcom Software Inc. of Minneapolis. According to Amcom's director of product management Ed Hixon, e.Notify was designed because customers needed something more than just mass notification systems.


'They needed templates and scripts that were specific to recipients,' he said. In essence, e.Notify is a role-based automatic notification platform that enables two-way communication. What's more, the e.Notify templates can specify that certain conditions be met before the system escalates the alert.


'There might be timers,' Hixon said. 'For instance, you have to do X or get answer Y before a timer expires.'



IP phones in motion

Voice over IP could eventually prove to be a beautiful thing. Moving to another desk? Need to make a private call from a conference room? Just unplug your VOIP phone, plug it in at the new location and you're good to go.


But moving around IP phones or any other IP-based device can present management challenges. That said, admins running eTelemetry's new Locate 4.0 network appliance could have a tool to link all IP devices to individual network users.


And according to the Annapolis, Md., company, they'll know exactly when, for instance, John Doe plugs his VOIP phone or laptop computer into a network port in the executive conference room.


Locate 4.0 scans IP traffic and pulls data from LDAP and Active Directory servers to correlate individuals with network devices. It now has something called Motion Detector for alerting managers when users change computers, switch ports or otherwise plug into the network.


Locate 4.0 also now includes a feature called Isolator, which CEO Ermis Sfakiyanudis said can help admins lock down systems that present a security risk.


'When you know you've got a problem system or somebody that's unauthorized gets on your network, you can cut them off by disabling the port they're on directly from our application,' he said.

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