30th > August > 2004 Archive

US website offers Caller ID falsification service

Overdue debtors beware: You may not be able to rely on Caller ID to screen out those annoying bill collectors much longer. A California entrepreneur has a plan to bring the hacker technique of Caller ID spoofing to the business world, beginning with collection agencies and private investigators. Slated for launch this week, Star38.com would offer subscribers a simple Web interface to a Caller ID spoofing system that lets them appear to be calling from any number they choose. "It creates an extra avenue for them to have someone pick up the phone," says founder Jason Jepson. Caller ID spoofing has for years been within the reach of businesses with certain types of digital connections to their local phone company, and more recently has become the plaything of hackers and pranksters exploiting permissive voice over IP systems. But Star38.com appears to be the first stab at turning Caller ID spoofing into a commercial venture. Jepson claims the service will charge a twenty-five cent connection fee for each call, and seven to fourteen cents per minute. SecurityFocus took the site for a test drive, and found it worked as advertised. The user fills out a simple Web form with his phone number, the number he wants to call, and the number he wants to appear to be calling from. Within two seconds, the system rings back, and patches the user through to the destination. The recipient sees only the spoofed number displayed on Caller ID. Any number works, from nonsense phone numbers like "123 4567" to the number for the White House switchboard. Jepson says the backend system doesn't rely on the most common methods of Caller ID spoofing - PRI lines and VoIP - but otherwise declined to comment on how it operates, for fear that competitors will launch copycat sites. Legal Issues Star38.com claims it will screen subscribers, and initially make the service available only to licensed private investigators and collection agencies. Jepson and his partners believe that collection agencies in particular will find the service invaluable for getting recalcitrant debtors to answer the phone. "If [collection agencies] have access to the loan application, they have the references," says Jepson. "Now they can call John Doe, and the number that he used as a reference on his loan application pops up on his or her Caller ID." When debtor answers the call, instead of being greeting by Uncle Joe from back east, he finds himself on the line with a stern gentleman who wants to discuss some missed car payments. The service does not appear to violate any federal criminal law, says Orin Kerr, a law professor at the George Washington University Law School, and a former Justice Department computer crime lawyer. "It doesn't violate the Wiretap Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or anything like that," say Kerr. But Rozanne Andersen, general counsel at the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, believes collection agencies would be barred from using Star38.com under two federal civil laws: the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits false or misleading representations and unfair practices in collecting debts, and the FTC Act, which outlaws deceptive trade practices in general. "I would say that the concept would be very attractive to the industry, but the practice would be prohibited," says Andersen. "If that consumer calls that number, and does not reach the collector, that's a very serious problem. Certainly the use of what I'll call a 'dummy number' or a 'substitute number' would be a prohibited practice, because it is deceptive in its nature." Jepson says his own attorney has advised him that the practice is permissible. He plans on launching Star38.com on 1 September. Copyright © 2004,
Kevin Poulsen, 30 Aug 2004

Orion delivers first 'personal cluster' workstation

There is something rather antiquated about many of the server clusters used today by engineers, scientists and media fiends. Their high-powered computing machines are often cobbled together over many days either in a makeshift data center or an expensive room with raised floors and penguin-friendly cooling. Cables overwhelm the space. The machines boot slowly. And then when the whole system is finally up and running, the users squabble over who can use part of the cluster for what - renting compute time like the earliest mainframe customers. That's why Orion Multisystems has made a move to modernize the cluster. The small California company has bested the idea of a personal computer by delivering a personal cluster - a 96-processor workhorse that fits underneath a desk, plugs right into the wall and takes less than two minutes to boot. "There was an explosion of interest in what could be done with high performance compute clusters, but overtime it became impossible to talk about a standard cluster," said Colin Hunter, CEO of Orion. "Even though there has been tremendous development in what could be considered standard applications, there has never been a standard product for individual technical or creative professionals." Orion will deliver two flavors of its workstation. A low-end system - shipping Oct. 1 - will have 12 processors, up to 24GB of memory and up to 1.4TB of storage. The high-end box - shipping in the fourth quarter - will have 96 processors, up to 192GB of memory and up to 9.6TB of storage. The small box starts under $10,000, while the larger box comes in under $100,000. Almost amazingly for a cluster, the boxes have a simple on/off switch. The Orion engineers spent months tuning their Linux operating system and a host of technical computing and graphics software to boot up nearly as fast as a standard PC operating system. The Orion workstations also run on Transmeta's 1.5GHz Efficeon processors. These low-powered chips coupled with numerous power-sensitive components allow the small cluster to consume less than 200 watts and the large cluster to consume less than 1,500 watts. Just for a bit of perspective, a typical microwave easily consumes 1,200 watts. By making it possible to plug the workstation in a standard outlet, Orion has opened up its systems to myriad users not satisfied with what standard one- and two-processor workstations or custom clusters can deliver. Scientists in the bio-tech field can now place a cluster right in their labs. Media companies can now give their technicians almost supercomputer class power at their desks, and engineers can now do complex modeling when they're ready instead of fighting for time on the company cluster. Blast from the past Orion has basically updated what companies such as SGI and Sun Microsystems once delivered in the 1990s by combining standard components to form a high-performing beast. "You can spend a little more and get an incredible performance boost," said Horst Simon, director of the National Energy Research Scientific Computer Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "It's kind of a back to the future idea if you think about what people would once spend for a powerful Sun workstation for their engineers and scientists." There, however, are a couple of concerns surrounding Orion. For one, the company has not yet fully tested the 96 processor system. That box basically combines eight of the 12-processor systems on a shared, high-bandwidth midplane. All of the servers then link into a 10gig backplane and every node can talk to another node at 1 gig per second. The Orion staffers don't expect any problems when linking the systems together, but the fact of the matter is that the box has not yet been done. Another possible issue is the use of Transmeta processors. There are many customers out there who rightly or wrongly look for the Intel or AMD brand for data center-class products. Transmeta has yet to prove that it can deliver new processors at a steady clip - a factor which could gate how fast Orion can advance its systems. But it's not surprising that Transmeta ended up as the processor of choice for Orion. Green computing The early foundations for the system can be traced back to the Green Destiny cluster developed by three engineers as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). That system combined up to 240 RLX blade servers powered by Transmeta chips into a super computer that could fit in a standard closet. One of the most attractive features of the cluster was that it could run without failure in a hot, dusty New Mexico warehouse instead of a super-cooled, specialized facility. Chris Hipp, a blade server pioneer and co-founder of RLX, worked closely with LANL on Green Destiny and now serves as the VP in charge of applications at Orion. Other Orion co-founders include Hunter who was VP of engineering at Transmeta and Ed Kelly, who once served as CTO at Transmeta and who contributed to early SPARC processor designs at Sun. The three individuals settled on the Transmeta chips, seeing them as the best performers per watt out there. They say Orion is not married to Transmeta, and one could envision the company picking up low-power Opteron or Xeon chips down the line. In the near-term, Orion has all the look and feel of a computing pioneer. Besides modernizing the cluster, it is also making use of another growing trend in computing by coupling numerous low-power processors together instead of relying on energy hungry chips that can process a single software thread well. All of the major chipmakers, including Intel, AMD, Sun and IBM, have discussed a move to low-power multicore chips. These chips place anywhere from four to eight processor cores together and link them up to loads of memory. This strategy makes up for a gap between processor and memory performance, as it allows each core to stay busy instead of having a one core chip cranking away on data and then wasting time waiting for memory. Sun is expected to lead the way with the first "radical" multicore design in 2006 with others following with more or less radical designs from 2007 on. While Orion hasn't put numerous cores on a single die, it has found a way to link many processors together and surround them with plenty of memory. And, in typical start-up fashion, it has pulled this off well ahead of the big boys. So far, Orion has been reluctant to say who exactly is beta testing its systems, although at least 10 companies have their hands on the 12-processor box. Given the popularity of Linux clusters, it would seem that Orion has come up with a very interesting design at the right time. Trends in computing often start out in the labs and slowly make their way to corporate data centers or desks. IBM, Sun, HP and Dell have all worked to build and ship ready-to-use clusters, hoping to simplify the cluster building process for customers. Those systems, however, tend to edge more toward the supercomputer realm where a single task can be worked on day and night. Orion is now taking that approach to a personal level. It's trying to satisfy the ever-present need among some users for a faster, better box. In total, Orion has added a new level of ease-of-use to clusters and pushed the boundaries of green computing. It has delivered exactly what you hope for from a start-up, especially in the hardware market, by capitalizing on what should have been an obvious trend and producing a system that makes sense right now, as opposed to futuristic kit. The company also managed to combine commodity parts with strong in-house engineering to out invent larger players but keep its systems affordable. We'll be keeping a close eye on the firm over the coming months and will bring updates on how the personal cluster idea is coming along. ® Related stories HP users decry Itanium, SAP issues and bad English In the chair: VMware's Ed Bugnion Sun slips 'workstations that must not be named' on Web Los Alamos lends open source hand to life sciences Transmeta blades power landmark supercomputer breakthrough Supercomputer eats more power than small city
Ashlee Vance, 30 Aug 2004
Cat 5 cable

Itanium sales fall $13.4bn shy of $14bn forecast

Itanium server sales are coming in just as expected, hitting the $14bn revenue mark halfway through 2004. Okay, well, not quite $14bn. That's the total analyst powerhouse IDC had once predicted Itanium would reach by the midway point of this year. In actual fact, total Itanium sales have hit $606m through the first two quarters of this year. Other organs might mock a $13.4bn miss by one of the world's leading number crunching firms but not us. We'll let you come to your own conclusions about such an incredible gaffe. The $606m figure arrives courtesy of Gartner, which just released its second quarter server sales data. We covered the basics last week but thought a break down of Itanium and Opteron sales would provide a bit more insight into the server market. So here goes. Total Itanium server sales hit $319m in the second quarter, which beat out the $287m total from the first quarter and crushed the $70m total from last year's second quarter. Total shipments hit 5,665 in Q2 compared to 2,717 in the same quarter last year. The Itanium ecosystem is as unhealthy as ever with HP totally dominating sales. HP moved 4,789 of the 5,665 boxes shipped in the second quarter, earning $250m in revenue. That total is roughly equivalent to the RISC server business done by IBM or Sun in one week. HP, however, did more than double shipments from the 2,262 boxes moved in last year's second quarter. Still, HP's customers are understandably concerned about the Itanic's course. SGI - another bet the company on Itanium company - also showed a huge increase in shipments, shifting 287 servers in the second quarter compared to just 54 servers last year. It pulled in $40m in revenue from these sales versus $16m one year ago, according to Gartner. IBM also obliterated its total of 2 shipments last year to reach 208 sales this year, garnering $8m in revenue. That amount is probably the equivalent of the lawyers' fees needed to approve the writing of the word Itanium in an IBM press release. NEC placed fourth with 38 units shipped and $6m in revenue up from 5 units shipped and $2m in revenue. And in the You Don't See This Often in the Industry Standard Server Market category, Bull pulled in more revenue than Dell during the second quarter. Bull shipped 80 Itanium boxes for $5m in revenue, while Dell shipped 187 systems for $4m in revenue. Legend, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Samsung and LangChao managed to ship 70 Itanium servers combined, comfortably addressing the exploding demand for Itanic systems in Asia. And now to the Opteron front. In total, the Opteron server market is exploding but still well behind the vast Xeon server market. Total Opteron shipments in the second quarter hit 60,000 and generated $191m in revenue, according to Gartner. This compares to just 2,735 shipments and $8m in revenue in the same quarter last year. White box makers dominated the Opteron scene with $138m in sales. Surprisingly, Sun Microsystems beat out IBM and HP for the lead among the large vendors with $22m in sales on 5,254 units. IBM moved 3,780 boxes for $14m in revenue, and HP moved 2,754 units for $8m in revenue. Dawning also shipped 2,324 units for $5m in revenue. No other prominent vendor shipped more than 200 units in the quarter. One would likely expect both Sun and HP to take a significant lead over IBM when the third quarter figures roll out. Sun and HP have fairly complete Opteron server lines at this point, while IBM is still experimenting with a single box aimed at the high performance computing market. Multiple sources have indicated that Sun and HP are having trouble meeting demand for their Opteron boxes. It's surprising to see IBM and Dell almost ignore the Opteron server market given the poor sales of their Itanium boxes. If you're going to experiment with a non-Xeon chip, why not make it worth your effort? IBM and Dell clearly have very tight relationships with Intel. ® Related stories Orion delivers first 'personal cluster' workstation Intel pledges to bring Itanic down to Xeon price-point Motorola plumps for HP Linux-on-Itanium boxes HP users decry Itanium, SAP issues and bad English HP's Unix base offered Opteron carrot Intel gets quiet about the competition
Ashlee Vance, 30 Aug 2004