GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS

On the FOSE floor, real-world solutions carry the day

After working on the show floor at FOSE 2011 for two straight days, I can say that, other than trying to stay hydrated in my heavy lab coat during the most scorching-hot stretch of D.C. summer weather in recent memory, I’ve had a pretty good time.

The theme of the show this year among the exhibitors seems to be lean and mean working-class products. There are a lot of small and midsized companies here this year, and they are focused like a laser on fulfilling technology needs in the federal government. I didn’t see a lot of the typical trade show glitz-type stuff. But if I wanted fluff, I’d smear some of the real stuff on a graham cracker. These are real-world solutions for hard-working feds.

Of course. I judged the GCN Best New Technology Awards at the show. I was interviewed twice about the judging process, and you can check out what I said online at the bottom of the photo page.

I always get a little giddy when FOSE — which is run by the 1105 Government Information Group, which publishes GCN — parent  rolls around, because this is the one show that really focuses on government. If you are a federal employee or a contractor working for the government, trust me, you are going to be the big fish in this pond. You might be a normal attendee at most big consumer shows, but here you are a VIP.

And some of the products really impressed me this year, not only because of their innovation, but also because of how they were filling the needs of government.

The Phantom Virtual Tap from Net Optics is a perfect example. The company saw a need, and filled it.

Everyone knows that government is moving into the cloud; entire issues of GCN have been devoted to cloud computing. But with all the advantages of virtualization comes great dangers. For one, there are no tools to help monitor the virtual space like there are in the physical world.

The Phantom Virtual Tap fixes this problem. It gives network administrators the ability to monitor the entire virtual network and respond when trouble comes, or even when it looks like trouble might be forming. This is a product that fills a definite need for government, and it’s a nice plus that it happens to have a clean interface that makes creating rules and making fixes so easy.

Another product that I really liked was the JumboSwitch from TC Communications. Not to be confused with Jumbo Shrimp, the switch is a completely future-proof way to manage your network expansion needs.

You purchase the enclosure, which happens to be Mil-Spec rugged for heat, so it can be placed almost anywhere, from a poorly ventilated server room to the end of a desert runway, and then you simply add modules into the slots as needed. These modules can be almost anything from standard phone jacks to Category 5 racks to Fiber Channel.

They all share the same space inside the same rugged box. And it has a nice monitoring program so you know how every one of the hodgepodge networking ports are performing, as well as the health of the overall enclosure. You can’t overspend either. Simply pick up what you need, as you need it. That’s brilliant.

In the category of “this could be the next big thing,” Aspera has introduced a way to move HUGE amounts of data in an efficient way. Notice I capitalized huge? It’s not a typo.

Check this out: They invented a new transfer protocol that kicks the pants off FTP. Called fasp, it can achieve 800 megabits/sec transfer times with 5 percent packet loss. Compare that with FTP and you have a five-fold increase in traffic speeds, far better accuracy (so fewer packets need to be re-transmitted), and fasp does not degrade over distance.

It was made for agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, which needs to transfer petabytes of data from European labs over the ocean to the United States. Fasp works with standard networks and can even optimize satellite traffic. Aspera proves that it’s not how much bandwidth you have available, it’s how efficiently you use it. And again, they spotted a need in government and filled it.

The winner of the Best in Show for FOSE was the BlackBerry PlayBook, and it deserves to be there. It’s designed for government and the enterprise from the ground up. It does not even work like any other tablet on the market.

While you can surf the Web and check your webmail accounts with it, the real functionality only happens when you bridge it to a BlackBerry smart phone. Then you can check your secure e-mail, get access to network files and do everything you normally do on your phone, only with full tablet functionality.

Data sent to the PlayBook is encrypted up to 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard, so it’s pretty much unbreakable. And should your PlayBook ever get more than 10 feet from your phone (outside the range of the Bluetooth connection) all data on the PlayBook is wiped until you re-connect. Nothing is stored locally.

That means that agencies that have already set up elaborate security protocols for their BlackBerry users don’t have to go back to square one when adding PlayBooks. They will essentially piggyback onto what you already have, increasing productivity with no additional risk. That’s what we call a winning scenario.

In truth, I was impressed with just about everything I saw this year, and the exhibitors get my salute. They rose to the occasion and provided the government with valuable solutions to important and perplexing government problems. And that’s the kind of real glitz I like to see in a show.

FOSE did not disappoint.
 

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