Red-Hot HPC

There's a pretty big battle in the world of high-performance computing (HPC) and hopefully this will soon affect those of you in IT.

HPC has long been the purview of designers, engineers, 3-D renderers and data miners. These high-performance boxes cluster massive arrays of processors, often x86 (and GPUs for the graphics-inclined), and aim it all at a small set of specialized applications. It's very cool, but unfortunately a bit of a niche.

And many of these systems -- in essence, commodity supercomputers -- have been running Linux. It's free and nice and scalable across clusters, multicores and multiprocessors. Windows Server is also showing some spunk in this market, and the availability of either Linux or Windows means you may be able to apply this muscle soon to more common data-processing tasks.

Red Hat doesn't want to miss this opportunity and has a new bundle -- a software stack, if you will -- that includes Linux itself along with clustering tools and a job scheduler. With so much great commodity hardware, this should form the basis of expensive and utterly ripping HPC systems.

Can you see a use for this style of HPC/supercomputer? Super-smart answers accepted at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Hotel Fear
Everyone, it seems, has a different way of passing their time in a hotel. Some hit the town, many hit the restaurants, a lot hit the bars and more than a few hit the pay-per-view. And some of us try to get some work done, and use the wireless or Ethernet connections at $12.95 a day to connect to the home office.

But like the food in the restaurants or some of the creeps in the bars, these connections aren't always safe. It seems hotels are far more interested in collecting their fees than in protecting your machine. Many of these Ethernet networks are hubs that are completely unsecured. And the wireless ain't much better -- most are also simple hubs.

Despite Cooling Economy, No MS Hiring Freeze
Yesterday wasn't a great day for stockholders, workers, politicians or taxpayers. In fact, the only folks who made money on Monday are the ones who sell red ink.

So far, Microsoft hasn't been clobbered by the Wall Street fiasco, meltdown, mess, debacle, scandal or disgrace. In fact, Microsoft went on the record denying that it was freezing its hiring. As many companies are laying off thousands, not freezing hiring sounds pretty dang good.

Is this economy affecting your shop, and if so, how? Stories of gloom and perseverance welcome at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Scareware Scams and Pop-Up Perils
Last week, I wrote about scareware, those pesky pop-ups that claim your PC is infected. Click the pop-up, and you're either buying security or performance software you don't need and don't even work, or your machine is now infected and ready to cash it in.

Yesterday's Mailbag section was full of your horror stories, but the topic also prompted me to write a feature story -- and that's where you can help. Drop me a note at dbarney@redmondmag.com and tell me how you or one of your company's machines was compromised by scareware. I'm also very interested in how to prevent the pop-ups and repair the damage they do. You could well be quoted in a future issue of Redmond magazine.

Mailbag: .NET vs. Java, More Thoughts on Scareware
Last week, Doug wrote about a survey that showed .NET's popularity is on the rise, after lagging behind Java's for some time. David explains what may be behind the change:

I am not a developer, but from a system admin point of view, I do not care for Java. With .NET, you have 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0 and soon 4.0. With Java, you have 10 or 12 JRE releases per 1.6.xx release. This becomes very cumbersome because most apps are tested against a certain Java release so each time that changes you have to deploy the new JRE (I called it the 'JRE chase'). I had this issue with a company that developed health care software. As a company, they did not seem to care much.

With .NET, you only have a handful of releases and they can be easily deployed with WSUS.
-David

Readers chime in with more of their thoughts on scareware, and their suggestions for fighting it:

I hate scareware! Had a machine last year with this problem. A user was clicking on the supposed 'problem' messages.

I think Centurion or another type of freezing software that puts the computer back to a clean state upon restart is one of the best ways to deal with it in a large deployment. Of course, keeping users from having install rights and user education are effective tools, as well.
-Jason

Have PCs that you maintain for friends or family? You would do them a huge favor if you set up multiple accounts in Windows, with the accounts that access the Internet having limited privileges. For adults, provide them with clear instructions on the only times they can log in to an administrative account to install well-known software.

My two children would be tempted to do the same thing many other computer novices do when these types of pop-ups occur, or they just want to add that required software to run games on their browser. Secure it and then lock down all the possibilities to find other ways to install executables. We haven't had a single virus for years on a family computer that's actively used by four different accounts.
-Joe

These stories are all reasons why people should NOT be surfing the Web using an account with administrator privileges! This means setting up the PC from the very beginning with an administrator's account and a limited-user account, and doing all of your normal work with that limited-user account.

Of course, how many people not in the IT field would know about this? Should companies that sell computers do a better job of educating the general public about this?
-Steve

And Doug's daughter chimes in with her advice:

How do I prevent the scareware pop-ups (and all pop-ups)? I got a Mac, and have maybe had one single pop-up since.
-Lauren

What do you think? Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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