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United States Upgrades Hardware

US Government Upgrades RAM 445

Deep Throat writes "Techworld has the scoop on a new super-sized RAM disk that the US government has just bought for a few million dollars in order to speed up searching through huge databases. It's 2.5TB! The VP of the company that made it says it is for Washington DC and searching databases but won't say who. Techworld explains why it reckons it's the Department of Homeland Security searching in the NSA and Pentagon databases for terrorists. And apparently the government is 'very happy' with the purchase and thinking about getting more."
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US Government Upgrades RAM

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  • Google (Score:5, Funny)

    by sik0fewl ( 561285 ) <xxdigitalhellxx AT hotmail DOT com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:40PM (#8513966) Homepage
    Still not as fast as if they'd make the info public domain and use google :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Usually the US Government rams upgrades. Iraq, Haiti, next?

  • Google? (Score:5, Funny)

    by powerpuffgirls ( 758362 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:40PM (#8513973)
    in order to speed up searching through huge database

    Have they consulted Google?
    • Re:Google? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RickHunter ( 103108 )

      The parent post isn't just funny, the poster has a very good point. Google does this on a regular basis and, from what I understand, does it very well. And without lots of really expensive and specialized hardware. They've got a lot of really, really good graph theorists and other such people working for them, too, so I'd expect that whatever they do can be generalized quite nicely.

      • Re:Google? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ThogScully ( 589935 ) <neilsd@neilschelly.com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:49PM (#8514120) Homepage
        While a good point, perhaps, I'm sure the government has no interest in even considering that unless they have the necessary government classification clearances, which I'm guessing would be pretty high given the assumed use of a database of this magnitude.
        • Re:Google? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by RickHunter ( 103108 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:54PM (#8514192)

          Google wouldn't need the clearances to be asked to supply the technology. The government just goes and says "we need to search some data quickly, what can you sell us?" and Google gives them some algorithms and code and such. Which they then pore over to look for security holes and then isolate nicely from everything else on the planet.

          No classification req'd.

          • Re:Google? (Score:3, Informative)

            by globalar ( 669767 )
            Google sells a search appliance [google.com] which also includes a (presumably) customized implementation of their searching algorithms. Basically any geeks dream - their own little Google. I read [eweek.com] that base price is $28,000 (seems to be a hardware/software bundle).

            You can keep the tin foil hat on, because this has been sold [gcn.com] to government intelligence services.
      • Re:Google? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:06PM (#8514354)
        Actually no, Google crawls a vast amount of information but a very small percentage of that information is useful (specifically the links and keywords). Google also remebers common queries and plays other tricks to speed up searches. When your looking at a 2.5 TB database it is very different. First of all history doesn't matter as much since it is unlikly that they will be running multiple searches on the same thing. Second the 2.5TB is all meta data, so its all relivant, so it all must be searched. Third a query is likly to be much more complex then a normal google query. Google has one index that can be clearly defined in an alphabetic way. The govenment has many data bases that are indexed multiple different ways. This makes searching for connections between databases very difficult. In short Google is highly optimised for a specific type of search and probably will not work in the much fuzzier realm of inteligence.
        • Re:Google? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by RickHunter ( 103108 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:17PM (#8514489)

          True, but as I said... (Possibly in another post) Google has some very good people working for them. Like, a sizable number of the major contributions to graph theory research over the last ten years major. I'm betting the USG could also deliver a (deliberately fuzzy) list of requirements to them and get back something that'd do what they wanted.

  • Like google (Score:5, Informative)

    by robslimo ( 587196 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:40PM (#8513982) Homepage Journal
    Sounds like they're taking heed of Google's success in attaining blazing search speeds by holding all the data in RAM.

    See here. [dashes.com]
  • by vasqzr ( 619165 ) <vasqzrNO@SPAMnetscape.net> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:41PM (#8513992)
    The list price of the system, which is made up from 40 RamSan 320 units, reviewed here, is $4.7million

    Purchased from Dell's website that would have been....$12.5 million?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:41PM (#8513994)
    They're upgrading in time for Longhorns release you insensitive clod!
  • by Shipud ( 685171 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:42PM (#8513997)
    I just hope they rememebr to use the USB2.0 for their new keychain disk; access time might be horrible otherwise...
  • Doom 3 (Score:3, Funny)

    by vinit79 ( 740464 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:42PM (#8514000)
    My guess is that they want to play Doom3 with a fps higher than 5 fps.

    Is Unreal Doomed
  • Doom 3 ? (Score:2, Funny)

    by MarkoNo5 ( 139955 )
    Wonder if they got hold of an early copy of Doom 3.
  • A trivial expense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:42PM (#8514011) Homepage Journal
    However, not that many departments could possibly want to run such vast queries regularly. It would also be extremely difficult to justify a $4.7 million investment unless that work was seen as vital and speed was a main consideration in that work. It is also peculiar that such a large purchase could be approved at a time of tightening belts.

    Honestly, I wonder what the author was smoking?

    * However, not that many departments could possibly want to run such vast queries regularly.

    You don't think so? I think *every* DBA would like to have a few extra TB of RAM. Maybe the Department of Transportation just wants a more efficient way to keep track of US Highway routes [wikipedia.org]?

    * It would also be extremely difficult to justify a $4.7 million investment...

    What country is this guy living in? If you're high up enough, it's trivially easy to justify $5 million. That's hardly enough to build one Interstate highway intersection.

    * It is also peculiar that such a large purchase could be approved at a time of tightening belts.

    Oh, now I know the problem. The author has been in a coma for the past 18 months. Wake up, dude, and smell the money [crunchweb.net]!
  • Not for the DHS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:43PM (#8514015) Homepage Journal
    This was bought by the Internal Revenue Service in order to improve the auditing of tax returns. They say that the additional revenue brought in will easily pay for the device many times over.

    If it was for the DHS or NSA you would not have heard about the purchase.
  • Don't be paranoid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afra242 ( 465406 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:43PM (#8514017)
    Before many users start discussing the privacy laws and what not, it should be noted that the data being stored is probably not new. It's the medium on which it is stored on, which is.

    Even without this, the old database could have been searched for some terrorists. Nothing has really changed.

  • They really just needed it to beta test Longhorn.
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:45PM (#8514053)
    "2.5 TB ought to be enough for anybody."

    Heck, that might even be enough to boot Longhorn!
  • More stats (Score:5, Informative)

    by Maskirovka ( 255712 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:45PM (#8514062)
    A RamSan 320 unit holds up to 64GB of RAM in a 3U rack unit. The US government order is housed in three full height rack units. There are over 320 2Gbit/s Fibre Channel ports and the aggregate I/O rate is 36Gbit/s.

    No comment needed.

  • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:46PM (#8514067) Journal
    After weeks of seeing overblown headlines on slashdot (IE, Bill Gates runs over a squirel on the way to work, headline reads "Bill Gates Murders Animals as part of his Job!!!"), it's good to see one that is, well, underblown. 2.5TB is a bit more than a 'RAM upgrade'
  • Lets see (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:46PM (#8514071) Homepage
    that's about 8KB for every person in the US, including the 'terrorist' bit. You can put a lot of personal data in 8KB.

    • Re:Lets see (Score:3, Funny)

      by bad_fx ( 493443 )
      I wonder if they also use the 'evil' bit.
      • I don't think that's an issue with the Homeland Security Department.
      • to save space, you can compress the evil bit and the terrorist bit since you don't need 4 full states.

        there are really only 3 states, evil, not evil, and ashcroft.

        (yeah, that was a stab. figure it out..)

    • Re:Lets see (Score:5, Funny)

      by Ummagumma ( 137757 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:54PM (#8514201) Journal
      the 'terrorist bit'? Thats the one right next to the evil bit [slashdot.org], right?

    • Re:Lets see (Score:3, Insightful)

      You can put a lot of personal data in 8KB.

      You assume the government is efficent :)
    • Correction: you can put a lot of textual data in 8KB. If you start putting other things like fingerprint scans, voiceprints, DNA profiles, mug shots, and other things that aren't character-based, 8KB immediately becomes ridiculously tiny.
      • Re:Lets see (Score:3, Insightful)

        by afidel ( 530433 )
        Fingerprints can be (and are) encoded as a couple of vectors, voiceprints are similar. DNA profiles only need to record the magnitude of around a dozen markers to accurate to the person, mugshots are the only thing on your list which would require a lot of storage, and you don't need those for the searching part of the DB, just have them stored in a blob with a key from the main record pointing to it. Don't bring up facial recognition, it doesn't work, false positives are through the roof and false negativ
  • Is Techworld a Drudge spinoff?
  • by maxpublic ( 450413 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:49PM (#8514111) Homepage
    ...right after their purchases of thousands of those little X10 spy cameras that you can mount just about anywhere! Oops, said too much, gotta go before-------------

  • You have no idea what it's for. The list of known terrorists and their acquaitances is relatively short, I cant imagine more than a few gigabytes being needed.

    Perhaps it's to store tax returns so the government can mail you your refund check faster. (Job required, sorry).

    Maybe INS (or USCIS or whatever they're called) want to track the tidal wave of benifits being handed to Mexican illegals.

    I'm a little tired of all this Big Brother speculation. Get over it.
    • (I have mod points, but think replying would be more apt)

      Perhaps it's to store tax returns so the government can mail you your refund check faster. (Job required, sorry).

      Maybe INS (or USCIS or whatever they're called) want to track the tidal wave of benifits being handed to Mexican illegals.

      Note that name of the buyer has been kept secret. None of the agencies you mentioned need their names to be kept secret... infact Tax Returns dept will scream all over that it can now serve the texpayers better!!

  • by Embedded Geek ( 532893 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:52PM (#8514175) Homepage
    'very happy' with the purchase

    I just hope they didn't get it at Fry's. God help them if they've got to return it.

  • by Qrlx ( 258924 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:54PM (#8514204) Homepage Journal
    Sure, it could be used for good. But you know and I know that it will eventually be used for evil.

    • That is why the "good" reason of "tracking terrorists" had to be used. Like you need a 100+ TB database to track terrorists! The real reason would cause too much of a fuss.
      The sheer number of naive and/or apathetic citizens that can not or will not ponder the ramifications of the construction of such a large people-tracking infrastructure -- regardless of its purpose -- is depressing.
  • by DR SoB ( 749180 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:57PM (#8514231) Journal
    And here everyone thought 64 bit would only be used ONLY in virtual!! Wow! I wonder if it's running on "Big Iron", since T-Rex might be the only monster that could handle the load. (z990 from IBM [ os = z/OS]). They also are using FICON which seems kinda dated for the technology I'd like to see more on the switching capability. I wonder how many CPU's she's running?

  • by Stevyn ( 691306 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:59PM (#8514255)
    This is what's going through the mind of someone at redmond right now...

    "With that much ram, I won't have to worry about fixing the memory leaks!"
  • Encryption? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nacturation ( 646836 ) <nacturationNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @05:59PM (#8514263) Journal
    <tinfoil type="hat">

    Could this be used with a large enough pre-computed table to crack encryption? Maybe the NSA is hoping to win RSA's next challenge. :)

  • by Vthornheart ( 745224 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:04PM (#8514315)
    ... it sounds to me, based on the article, that the theoretical use for it would be more like a giant, freakin' enormous Cache system than an outright storage system. In otherwords, on the beginning of a query, all pertinent info is copied to the Solid State drive for analysis. There it is analyzed, and wanted data extracted at astoundingly fast speeds.

    Perhaps we should begin to consider the implications of this step in analytical ability. Every techie knows that the Government (in cooperation with major Corporations) has had the methods in place to track individuals... RFID tags, GPS locating (in automobiles as well as hand held units. You can tell your position, but the position is also transmitted back... Five Star anyone?), Cell Phone triangulating, and thanks to the Patriot Act, the Government now has legal access to the records of pretty much any transaction we make with bookstores, libraries, etc (and probably more places as well... and this isn't even taking into account information that they might be recieving in ways that we do not know of).

    The thing that (we shall assume) they didn't have before was the ability to instantaneously cross check this information. (I assume this because... well... why would they have bought the drive otherwise?) Now that they can check such information so quickly, will we be brought into an era of "Total Information Awareness" as the government spoke of not too long ago? Does this smell the same as the Thought Police to anyone else?

    To me, this presents at least the intent by the government to achieve total information awareness, if it doesn't actually achieve it. And the intent is bad enough. Perhaps they're not reading our minds, but the ability to monitor our actions in such vast varities of levels comes pretty close to doing so.

  • by Mordack ( 756812 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:04PM (#8514320)
    Yeah, I have one of these things too. It really speeds up my builds.
  • by jhines ( 82154 ) <john@jhines.org> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:08PM (#8514373) Homepage
    Now checking 2,748,779,069.440 bytes of memory, please wait.....
  • Database accelerator (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Devi0us ( 21988 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:12PM (#8514425) Homepage
    I was seriously looking at this product as a solution for a really bad database performance issue for a major financial institution. Instead of redesigning the whole database (small, around 2-3TB), we were thinking about putting a couple of these in to replace the slow EMC 8830/DMX infrastructure. Unfortunately, the PCI busses of the DB server weren't fast enough to keep up with it (Unisys ES7000 420). When you look at the TCO, the man years required to redesign the DB and applications were much more expensive than dropping in another few million in hardware. The only downside that I saw to the terraramsan solution was that it eats power and generates way too much heat. This thing would be great for horizontally scaled databses, as long as your physical plant could support it. Brute force always wins over recoding. That is, until we got offshored by Indians billing at $30/hour.
  • Look at the size of that thing!

    When I worked for the Inland Revenue in the UK, we hooked into a national database of personal details available to a wide variety of government departments. We used Telnet clients via an intranet, and although I forget the precise specs of the central server, it sure as hell didn't need a RAM disk that big.
    We never had any problem waiting for results, either. On a really bad day, you'd get maybe a 1s lag between hitting enter and a results screen coming up.

    So if the US.gov needs a RAM disk that big, it's one fricking huge database. I have to wonder what sort of info it carries (part of the size might be due to things like photos, fingerprints, criminal records - stuff our DB didn't use), and how many people are on there (100% of the population?).
    The scary thing: what if 2.5TB is a fraction of the database size - say, 25 to 50%? You'd still get reasonable performance, but the idea of a government holding 5-10TB of personal data seems positively Orwellian. "Big Bush is watching you"?

    Disclaimer: I am not a techie, a lawyer or a government analyst. And it's only 5 years since I junked my Amiga 500, which did perfectly well with a mere 1MB of RAM, so maybe I'm used to thinking on a different scale. If you feel I'm wrong in any way, please feel free to correct me - I actively appreciate it!
  • by hazman ( 642790 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:15PM (#8514457)
    Or else the Ministry of Information may just be looking for a Mr. Buttle rather than the Mr. Tuttle they really want to find.
  • by fizban ( 58094 ) <fizban@umich.edu> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:22PM (#8514545) Homepage
    ...1-800-MAGNETS reported a very large order from an undisclosed source for very high-powered magnets...
    • Re:In other news... (Score:3, Informative)

      by pclminion ( 145572 )
      Except that magnets can't disrupt capacitor-based storage devices such as SRAM or DRAM. Magnetic-based core memory technology came and went decades ago...
  • by Gherald ( 682277 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:24PM (#8514575) Journal
    Where can I buy a *small* ramdisk, on the cheap?

    For example, I have about ten 128mb PC100 DIMMs lying around. I'd love to stick them on some kind of PCI card to make a ramdisk, but I have no idea where to go about getting such hardware... google's results are useless, they're all links to *SOFTWARE* ramdisks that use main memory =(
  • One Word: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:21PM (#8515163)
    Echelon [echelonwatch.org]
  • Frightening (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OceanWave ( 192467 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:57PM (#8515509)

    Rumor has it that Adolf of WW-II infamy managed a lot of his damage with records stored in shoe-boxes.

    It is scary even imagine what they could do with that. Do all the posts regarding privacy come to mind?

    Once, I had an argument with a buddy of mine that spoke his mind--to much--over Email. I gave him a little grep script to show how email monitoring could select "suspicious material" for further analysis.

    Now, all they have to do is tie it in to a profiling system, and there you go. Orwell's 1984^10 all over again:

    SELECT TOP 100

    Suspect.LastName, Suspect.FirstName
    Suspect.Profile_Points DESC
  • by BlackHawk-666 ( 560896 ) <ivan.hawkes@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:03AM (#8519371) Homepage
    Wow 2.5TB of RAM, they must be running the new Beta of Windows Longhorn!

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham