FOSE 2008

Products on the cutting edge

Solid-state drives and green computing dominated winner's list at FOSE 2008

It's a box! How technologically innovative is putting stuff in a box?' cried one judge.

Others, however, marveled at what a well-engineered box it was. In fact, calling it a box was a bit of an over-simplification.

The 11 judges in the room were debating if the Sun Microsystems Sun Modular Datacenter S20, a portable data center that can be easily shipped anywhere in the world, was indeed the best new technology being shown at the FOSE 2008 Conference and Exposition, held in Washington.

It was up against some stiff competition.

More than 150 entries were submitted for this year's GCN Best of FOSE Awards. Only 14 awards were to be given and only one would get the Best in Show top honor. This is where the conversation about the box came in.

FOSE is run by the 1105 Government Information Group, which also publishes GCN. So the judges came from the editorial staff of 1105's Government Computer News and Washington Technology publications, in addition to the company's crack systems administration team.

Winners were chosen based on four criteria: innovation, usability/applicability to government, relative performance based on specifications and value.

In the end, the judges chose Motorola's RFS7000 RF switch for Best in Show. It was less exciting than a modular data center, true, but perhaps more revolutionary in its unassuming way. We felt it pointed in the direction enterprise computing is headed: toward wireless local-area networking. 'The wireless switch advances an entire technology,' one judge said.

The other winners are below.

CATEGORY: Audiovisual/surveillance
WINNER: Ring2 Conference Controller for BlackBerry, Ring2 Conferencing

The service turns your BlackBerry into a miniature controller for conference calls. You can see a list of those who have dialed in and call in additional parties directly from your device. The judges admired how easily the software implemented what is an unwieldy task of herding conference call participants.


Desktop computers
WINNER:: HP Compaq dc7800 Ultraslim Desktop Business PC with solid-state drives, Hewlett-Packard

This desktop PC was one of the first we've seen to incorporate a solid-state hard drive. The drive really hastened the boot-up time of the unit and the time that it took to load applications and data, although it was only 16G in size.

CATEGORY: Display devices
WINNER: ThinkVision L193p, Lenovo

This smart, economically priced 19-inch monitor had many of the features normally associated with higher-level LCD monitors, such as a fully ergonomic stand, connectors for analog and DVI-D video and even High Definition Content Protection signals. It has a native resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 and is Energy Star compliant.

CATEGORY: Handheld devices
WINNER: GD Itronix GoBook MR-1 ultramobile notebook PC, Ridgeline Technology

This is a compact rugged laptop PC. Though only 4.3 inches by 6 inches and weighing only 2 pounds, it has all the features of a full-size notebook. It runs a 1.2 GHz Intel Core Solo processor. The 5.6-inch DynaVue display is easily viewed outdoors. It also features a user-removable shock-mounted hard drive and fingerprint reader.

CATEGORY: Networking equipment
WINNER: RFS7000 RF Switch, Motorola

There's a lot to like about this wireless local-area network switch. About the size of a regular router, it can manage 256 wireless access points and wireless devices. It can also perform firewall duties, asset tracking and even traffic capping.

'It can provide a way for feds to finally secure their wireless networks,' one judge said. 'It's everything in one box.'

CATEGORY: Peripherals
WINNER: i780 Scanner, Kodak

This is a smart midlevel production scanner with the ability to capture images at 130 pages per minute with a resolution of 300 dpi, beating other scanners in this general category by at least 100 dpi. It does automatic orientation correction and can scan documents of mixed sizes. And it is Energy Star compliant. It 'processes high volumes of data and [does] it well,' a judge said.

CATEGORY: Portable PCs
WINNER: LifeBook P8010 Notebook, Fujitsu

Computer Systems Fujitsu seems to have perfected the art of making compact, well-designed laptop PCs. Only 11.2 inches by 8.26 inches and 1.37 inches thick, and weighing less than 3 pounds, this unit is remarkably well-designed and comes with a multitude of features, such as a built-in camera, a DVD writer, a fingerprint reader and a shock sensor hard-drive protection system. 'It is about the size of a Reader's Digest,' one judge said. 'It is really cute. You just want to take it home.'

CATEGORY: Security hardware
WINNER: The IronKey, IronKey

The makers of this flash drive consider it to be the world's most secure. The chip generates its own Advanced Encryption Standard-level keys to encrypt data. The chip is wrapped in an epoxy that makes the unit waterproof. And the circuitry will short out should it be tampered with. The flash drive will also self-destruct after a predetermined number of wrong passwords have been entered.


Security software
WINNER: Good Mobile Messaging S/MIME, Motorola

This software can make almost any handheld device a secure e-mail reader, using the Secure/ Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions e-mail encryption protocol. It meets the mandates set by Defense Department Directive 8100.2 for wireless security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 for identifying government employees on a network. When added to a mobile device, it works with a DOD Common Access Card and/or HSPD-12 Personal Identity Verification card.

WINNER: HP Integrity BL870c Server Blade, the Bladesystem c3000, Hewlett-Packard

In this category, we gave the award to a family of servers from HP. The HP Integrity BL870c packs as many as four Intel dual-core Itanium processors and as much as 96G of memory onto each blade. The c3000, a novel half-blade designed for small facilities such as offices or warehouses, uses the same blade server configuration. Two of these puppies fit into one blade rack. They run off standard 110-volt AC power, rather than the 208 volts most blade servers require.

CATEGORY: Desktop software
WINNER: ZyImage eDiscovery Platform, ZyLab

Zylab's ZyImage has been around for a while, faithfully serving those agencies that scan a lot of documents that they need to manage, so it was a smart step to include some tools to help e-discovery. One feature is an analytics server that indexes documents, allowing the search engine to return results summarizing the names, addresses and other parameters you set. The smart redaction tool blanks out potentially sensitive bits of information, such as Social Security numbers.

CATEGORY: Software for enterprise systems
WINNER: Infor Asset Sustainability, Infor

'Energy consumption is a big issue now, and this is one of the first applications to marry asset management and energy management,' one judge said. This software relies on sensors placed around the data center that monitor the consumption of electricity by servers, switches, heating and air-conditioning units, and all other devices. If the system sees an unusual energy spike, it can send an alert and even trigger a work order.

WINNER: RamSan 500, Texas Memory Systems

Think of this unit as a 2T array of solid-state drives, a first at FOSE. Although writing to solid state is speedy, this unit speeds the process even more, thanks to a 64G front-end cache, giving it the ability to run more than 200,000 operations per second, more than twice what most competing systems can offer.

WINNER: Sun Modular Datacenter S20 ('Project Blackbox'), Sun Microsystems

A hallmark of smart engineering, the Datacenter S20 is basically a data center in a travel container. 'This thing is wicked cool,' one judge said. Each 160-square-foot container has seven industry-standard 19-inch racks for servers and another rack for network equipment and cooling gear. In a deployment, the military can load the tractor trailer-sized containers onto a ship and have an entire data center set up on location.

CATEGORY: Judge's Choice
WINNER: Ace Raptor 4 Portable Workstation, Ace

Judge's Choice is an award for any product that, for whatever reason, didn't quite win in the category it was entered into but still was highly worthy of praise. The Raptor 4 is not what you'd typically consider a portable PC. It was the heaviest laptop we encountered on the show floor.

But this unit could make a great portable Web server or workstation for serious data crunching.

'It was an unapologetic mega-notebook,' one judge said. It sports some serious hardware: dual video cards, an Intel Core 2 Quad/Xeon 3200 series processor and three hard drives.

Honorable mention

The GCN Best of FOSE Awards can only give out 14 prizes, one per category. So not surprisingly, the judging team came across a fair number of impressive entries that did not win, either because they fell short in some small detail or were edged out by a slightly more dazzling ' though not necessarily competing ' product. In no particular order, here were some of the serious contenders:

PacStar 6800 (From PacStar) is a portable voice over IP switch that can support more than 20,000 users. The switching equipment comes from Cisco Systems, and PacStar provides the smart container (which monitors the gear), as well as the customization for the military market. The military is nothing if not mobile, so the ability to pick up and move a phone system is a mighty appealing one, and the PacStar 6800 looks to be a rugged, well-engineered system to do the job.

Polycom introduced its high-definition video conferencing system, the HDX 4000. It is an impressive system with, as you might expect, an amazingly clear display. "It might be overkill, but it was cool," one judge said. Polycom also added a lot of nifty new features to the software, such as the ability to suppress the sound of people typing on their keyboards during presentations.

The judges were very impressed by the The Universal Imaging Utility, from Big Bang. This software allows an organization to create a single image of a desktop Windows operating system, which then can be cloned across different hardware platforms. This would be handy for maintaining a single reference OS image across computers from different manufacturers (instead of maintaining an image for each computer model), as well as for switching vendors during a hardware refresh. The software keeps track of what drivers are needed, and gets regular updates from the company. "This could be extremely useful for admins," one judge noted. The only downside, admittedly a minor one, is that it only is designed to work with Windows desktop machines, and not Windows servers.

In the handheld computing category, the rugged Nomad from Trimble got high marks for its smart design. It has a built-in Global Positioning System unit, digital camera and can work as a tablet PC. It also promises a battery life of up to six hours. We just wish it had a bit more storage space. With only 1G of solid-state storage, minus whatever space the operating system takes, it doesn't have room for many large applications.

Hewlett-Packard presented a unique offering, called Secure Key Manager, which could greatly simplify the management of key generation and storage, allowing an agency to more easily manage its public-key infrastructure. It can host up to 100,000 keys in a security-hardened appliance. We found only one potential drawback: The encrypted keys can be stored only on an LTO4 tape drive. The company has plans to expand the storage options to disk-based storage arrays within the year, so we look forward to reevaluating this product in FOSE 2009.

This year's judges were John Breeden II, Doug Beizer, Greg Crowe, Joab Jackson, William Jackson, Wyatt Kash, Patrick Marshall, John Rendleman, Tuncay Tankir, Trudy Walsh and Rutrell Yasin.


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