Thursday, 28 April 2016

Logging in with Your Head May Not Be Far Away

Security continues to be among the top concerns of the information age thanks to creative hackers who are always finding new ways to break into systems. In response, security experts are aggressively pursuing an extensive list of new measures, including using biometric information to log in to accounts. The use of such information would eliminate the need for usernames and passwords that can be easily hacked. If all works out well for German researchers, logging in to your computer with your head and a sound file may not be far off.

The biometric security protocols we have seen thus far rely on things such as fingerprints and iris scans. Now, researchers at the University of Stuttgart, Saarland University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics are working on a new way to take advantage of the architecture of the human skull for biometric identification. They have modified a Google Glass device capable of identifying minute structural differences that enable software to tell the difference between human beings.

Researchers explain that the shape, size and other features of the human skull are different from one person to the next. So unique are we in this regard that sound resonates within the skull in a way that is distinct in every person. The German system takes advantage of this by playing a sound through a headset that is then measured according to how it resonates in the skull. Resonance data can then be stored and compared at a later time. So far, the researchers say their system works with an accuracy of about 97% which is good but, of course, needs to be honed before it is feasible to use on a commercial basis.

Blurring the Lines of Integration

Should the German researchers manage to bring their project to commercial fruition, it will change basic computing and networking forever. Gone will be the days of remembering passwords that have to be changed every 4 to 6 months for security purposes. Access to networks will be granted to specific people, and those people only, based on unique markers present in their biometric information.

What we are now witnessing is a blurring of the line between human and machine. As so many science fiction films have predicted in the past, we could be moving ever-closer to that time when humans and computers are so tightly integrated that identifying any line between them is nigh on impossible.

As for the German system, dubbed ‘SkullConduct’, there really are no practical limits once it is perfected and made marketable. Any function for which traditional usernames and passwords are used can easily be adapted to the new biometric solution. It can be used locally, in the cloud, across international networks and so on.

What will they think of next? No one knows, but logging into your computer using your head and a resonating sound wave is certainly intriguing. The only thing the rest of us ask is that the chosen sound be somewhat pleasant. No loud sirens, shrieks, bells, or whistles, please!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Cambridge Looking to Lead Superconductor Research

The University of Cambridge in Cambridgeshire, England has announced an ambitious plan to become a world leader in superconductor research that will hopefully make Britain a world leader in developing the computing technologies of the future. The Cambridge plan involves a GBP £2.7 million investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

In an official news release from the University, Cambridge officials explain that their ground-breaking project is focused squarely on a new technology known as 'spintronics'. This technology is based on using a property of superconducting materials known as 'spin' to process large volumes of information at ever-increasing speeds. Their biggest challenge is overcoming the magnetism associated with spin. Right now, magnetism interferes with data conduction, thereby negating any gains made by manipulating spin to increase speed.

Previous research conducted by the University in 2010 demonstrated that, at least in theory, it is possible to power a spintronic device using a superconductor. Actually doing so is the main priority of Cambridge's new project. But the university hopes to go above and beyond that as well. University officials say the scope of their project is larger than anything else currently being worked on. They have plans to solve the magnetism problem, devise ways the technology can be used for future computing, address storage needs as they relate to supercomputing and, ultimately, build workable spintronic devices that deliver the desired results.

Energy Savings a Priority

Driving the computing world toward spintronics technology is the need to reduce the power needs of data centres while still increasing data transfer speeds and storage capabilities. Cambridge experts say that almost 3% of all the power now produced in Europe goes directly to data centre operations. And with every data centre build, more power is needed to keep data flowing.

Superconductor design is such that when properly deployed, it can increase, or at least maintain, data transfer speeds at low power. Combining current superconductors with spintronic devices makes it possible to radically reduce the amount of power that data centres need to do what they do. Cambridge researchers believe that successful development of their spintronics technology could be the most important thing to shape the future of computing worldwide.

Officials at Cambridge say the difference between their research and what is happening in other places around the world boils down to the scope of the research. Apparently, other projects are mainly focused on discovering the intricacies of the spin phenomenon as an isolated course of study. They say Cambridge is the only institution looking beyond the basics of spin to develop a comprehensive plan for utilising its properties in a real-world setting.

The Cambridge project is certainly ambitious if nothing else. We look forward to seeing what researchers are able to come up with over the next several years of study. If their theories are correct, Cambridge University could be on the verge of initiating a brand new era of supercomputing that has real world implications for the average consumer, business and data centre.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Protect Your Electronics from Damaging Fires

Have you ever wondered what should be considered when deciding which fire suppression system to install your information technology space? This blog lays out exactly what to look for and how hybrid fire extinguishing systems are changing the landscape of fire suppression for data centres.

Today’s data centre and electronics industries look for fire suppression systems that are safe, cost-effective, and mindful of the environment. Traditional water mist, gaseous, and inert gas technologies can present design, performance, and maintenance challenges. A hybrid combination, however, of water mist and nitrogen gas extinguishes fires with zero to little wetting. A hybrid-designed fire suppression system avoids excess water damage, maintains room integrity, and is 100% environmentally safe and easy to maintain.

Avoiding excess water damage is a main concern for data centre and electronic facilities. These facilities house thousands of dollars of various electronics and, if a fire incident occurred, they want to preserve as many of their resources as possible. Traditional, single-agent water mist systems, if discharged, would cause extreme wetting conditions and damage to the equipment housed in the facility. Hybrid systems use as little water as possible to put out flames, saving the present electronics. 

Keeping it green is something that should definitely be considered when choosing a fire protection system. Inert gas systems present many problems in today’s sustainability-focused marketplace. These types of systems utilize chemical agents and halocarbons to achieve fire suppression, raising environmental concerns. Hybrid fire extinguishing systems are environmentally safe and use non-toxic gas.

Following a fire event, or during regular maintenance, data centres and electronics facilities should consider a fire suppression system that is easy to maintain. Traditional agent storage cylinders may end up needing to be returned to the manufacturer for refill with property agents or removed from the system for weighing, both of these costing time and money. You need a system that recharges rapidly so you can use it almost immediately after a fire incident. 

A unique solution for data centres uses hybrid technology to deliver a high velocity, low pressure blend of water and nitrogen to both cool the hazard area and remove the oxygen that sustains the fire. Electronics are kept dry and there are absolutely no toxic agents or chemicals involved. This type of system has been proven effective for small, smoldering enclosed fires and large, heat-releasing fires in open spaces.

A hybrid fire extinguishing system provides an innovative, safe, and effective fire suppression solution for installations that contain electronic equipment. Facility owners and operators benefit from the technology’s minimal wetting operation, simple maintenance, environmentally-friendly design, and rapid return to normal operations after system discharges.

This post was written by Cedric Verstrynge, Victaulic Sales Engineer, Vortex, Victaulic Company,

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Futuristic Iceland Data Centre Tower Envisioned for Iceland

The 2016 Skyscraper Competition sponsored by eVolo, an architecture and design journal pushing technological advances in building design, resulted in some unique designs that have a lot of people thinking. A case in point is a data centre tower design submitted by an Italian architectural team with an eye on Iceland. The duo insists that Iceland is the perfect place to establish a new, technologically-advanced data centre for a world with an insatiable appetite for data.

According to Valeria Mercuri and Marco Merletti's submission to eVolo, their design calls for the construction of a tall, cylindrical tower with empty space in the interior. On the exterior would be mounted modular pods housing various data servers and peripheral equipment. Built into the foundation of the tower would be administrative offices and maintenance and lab space for technicians.

Technicians could access pods from the interior space, pulling them into the tower and lowering them to the lab below in order to work on them. Otherwise, the interior space would act as a chimney to help vent the equipment year-round. Fans could draw outside air through the pods, sending the heat into the chimney to be dispersed or recaptured for other purposes. Although futuristic in its visual presentation, the idea is based on some sound, fundamental principles of engineering. It certainly gives new meaning to cloud computing!

Iceland Is the Perfect Environment

Mercuri and Merletti chose Iceland as the theoretical location for their data centre skyscraper for three reasons:

Firstly, Iceland's geographic location between Europe and North America would make it the ideal place to host data and applications belonging to companies on both continents. A centrally-located data centre would speed up data transfer times and make it possible to store huge volumes of data in a place that is easily accessible from both sides of the Atlantic.

Secondly, the architects insist that Iceland already has the capacity to provide 100% renewable energy to power their data centre tower. Between geothermal and hydro-power, they say the data centre would have no need for fossil fuel energy or a municipal grid hook-up.

Finally, Iceland's location relative to the Arctic Circle means there is an ample supply of cool air that could be used to provide natural cooling for the tower, further reducing its need for costly energy. The average high in Iceland is just 7°C while the average low is just under 2°C. Provided designers could properly regulate moisture in the air, using cool external air to maintain safe equipment temperatures seems ideal. In the winter, any excess heat drawn off servers could be harnessed for municipal heat.

Whether the Mercuri and Merletti proposal ever sees the light of day remains to be seen. But it is an intriguing design. Not only would construction of numerous towers lead to new data centre jobs in Icelandic cities, but they could also pave the way to a new method of storing data while using less energy.