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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 54, No. 7        April 5, 2002
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Stun device is reusable, more effective Labs team makes cluster computing portable One-way network link



Reusable explosive device offers help to law enforcement

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By Neal Singer

Before a crowd of business-suited observers, the slender man in running shoes hurls a cannister about the size of a small soda can into the concrete-walled room -- a test cell in the rear of Sandia's Explosive Components building.

The explosion's extreme brightness and sharp report -- like a flashbulb going off a foot from the eye, a firecracker a foot from the ear -- momentarily daze a reporter who has arrived too late to don ear plugs and sunglasses.

A pungent cloud of white dust drifts toward the observers, most from Washington.

"The smell of victory," says one, sniffing.

The nonlethal, newly patented device, developed by Mark Grubelich (2552), is of interest to law enforcement officials as a cheaper, safer way than those currently used to stun kidnappers or terrorists in a room where hostages are kept at gunpoint.

Violence contained

The observers -- "mostly from organizations with 'I' as one initial," says one -- know that the idea is to break down a door or window, quickly toss in a diversionary device (also called a stun grenade or flash-bang), and take advantage of the baddies' resultant disorientation to capture, disable or, if unavoidable, kill them while freeing their victims.

However, most devices currently in widespread use -- mostly based on technology developed at Sandia -- contain a metal powder that violently combines with a salt containing oxygen. When this mixture -- aluminum and potassium perchlorate -- is ignited by a grenade-style fuse, an explosion takes place within the body of the device. This creates a zone of extreme pressure nearby -- dangerous if the device lands near a hostage's neck or head. The explosion also destroys the shell of the device containing the explosive, making such apparatuses expensive to use as training tools.

The new device lobbed by Mark is made of plastic and contains only metal powder and no oxidizer. Instead of ignition within the cannister, the particles are forced like a burst of talcum powder out through 16 quarter-inch-diameter holes in the bottom of the structure. The ejected particles hang momentarily in air, "flared like a peacock's tail," says Mark. They form a sheet of metal dust about five feet in diameter before igniting by combining with oxygen present in the air. The distributed powder means that the pressure in the immediate vicinity of the exploded device is lowered to a safer level. It also means that the cannister is undamaged and can be reloaded for a few dollars, making it easy to use as a training device.

The new configuration is also simple to adapt for a variety of law enforcement needs. Prison officials require a grenade that, if remaining whole after use, is too soft and flexible to be used as a blackjack by rioting convicts. Soldiers require a lightweight cannister that can be carried over long distances. Police can carry the cannister in their cars, so weight is not a factor, but they want no explosive material within the cannister so any that fall into the wrong hands can't be restructured into a bomb. - - Neal Singer

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Sandians make cluster computing portable

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By Nancy Garcia

Even cluster computers may become smaller and more portable under the inspiration of a demonstration system put together by folks in Sandia's Embedded Reasoning Institute.

A cluster computer normally combines several desktop-sized personal computers to work together on large problems in a fast, affordable way, operating on such software systems as the widely used Linux.

"A lot of people thought it was really cool," says Rob Armstrong (8915), who showed their Linux cluster of four CPUs, just 13 inches in its largest dimension, at Supercomputing 2001 in November. (Overall measurements are 5.3" x 5.3" x 13".) Rob just stowed the commodity cluster in the overhead airplane bin on his flight to the meeting in Denver and back.

The next month, Mitch Williams (8945), who oversaw its creation, won a "Work in Progress" presentation at the annual Large Installation System Administration conference.

"It's being touted as a small Linux cluster with portability for tutorials, demonstrations, and road shows," he says. "The alternative for folks who want to go to an exhibition with a cluster computer is to spend months coordinating the shipping of a rack of perhaps eight full-size personal computers.

"It's no fun," says Rob, who has done this. "It's very cool that you can get it into that small space." Both Oak Ridge and Los Alamos national laboratories are now building their own versions, inspired by this early example.

The cluster uses the PC104 "embedded system" hardware standard, with units stacked like a club sandwich. All of the components, except the see-through Lexan case, were purchased off-the-shelf from embedded system vendors. Although the four CPUs don't offer the power and speed of a larger cluster, they will still run software created for cluster computing, so specialists can demonstrate their code at a remote location much like other presenters use laptop computers on the road to present their wares.

Besides the portability advantage, Rob says, the approach is also attractive to vendors seeking a more compact way to offer commodity clusters. "It's certainly far more dense than hooking PCs with a hub," he says.

The system was integrated for Sandia by Parvus Corp. in Salt Lake City in October, which Mitch visited so he could test the unit on-site. The CPUs were provided by Advanced Digital Logic.

Mitch created a web site for those interested in creating their own "cluster in a breadbox": http://eri.ca.sandia.gov.

Next to larger research clusters like Sandia's CPlant, he says, "it's just a toy -- but it's a very interesting toy to the people who are programming CPlant." - - Nancy Garcia

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One-way network link keeps systems secure

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By Nancy Garcia

Necessity became the mother of invention when Instrumentation Systems Engineering Dept. 8232 Manager Curt Nilsen created a new device that is subject to a recent

exclusive license.

Curt had been working on material monitoring techniques for arms control when he wanted to remotely make unclassified information available to computer users who were on either classified or unclassified systems. (Both were desirable, due to the need for varying levels of access to carry out either physical monitoring or treaty verification.) His solution was to use optical isolation. Data can be sent by a light-emitting diode and received by a photodetector. This simple one-way optical implementation assures that information can flow in only one direction. Special protocols were also created to assure extreme data reliability in this one-way environment.

"Optical isolation is great. Unless your photodetector turns itself into a light bulb," Curt explains, "you're ensured the data won't go the other way. It is literally 100 percent one-way."

The device grew into a high-speed link using asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) cards (at 155 megabits per second) when a summer student was using a serial port version and needed more speed. A co-worker suggested using ATM, Curt says, and through the ATM card vendor, the licensee heard about the technology and met Curt.

Now Curt's data diode (as it is called) is the core technology of the licensee's privately held company, Owl Computing Technologies Inc. (www.datadiode.com). Company founder Ron Mraz had representatives negotiate an exclusive license with Sandia this winter after initially obtaining licensing rights in 1998.

"The underlying technology can be applied in many places," Mraz says, "to harden the security of any existing infrastructure, and we're moving forward to more generalized use of the application. Sandia has helped tremendously."

"The time is right for him to introduce the technology into the marketplace," adds Craig Smith, who handled the license re-negotiation for Sandia's Business Development Support Dept. 8529.

Owl's implementation of the data diode and its one-way protocols using ATM technology created a "very attractive product," Curt says. The data diode's one-way link keeps information within a private network inaccessible, while allowing an inflow of information from the Internet or another outside network -- similar to the way a one-way mirror permits viewers to see outside even while outsiders cannot see in. Information from the outside source is copied in a one-way stream onto the destination computer.

Owl Computing, meanwhile, is offering its data security products based on this technology to aerospace and defense companies, government agencies, national laboratories, heavy industry, health care, and information technology sectors. -- Nancy Garcia

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Last modified: June 14, 2002


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