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Consortium Looks For A Long-Term Solution

Carnegie Mellon University last week launched a consortium to protect the nation's computing infrastructure and enhance the reliability of its information systems. The Sustainable Computing Consortium's members--including American International Group, CMP Media (InformationWeek's parent company), Mellon Financial, Microsoft, and Oracle--say they're looking to the consortium to take an extensive and exhaustive approach to quality and security.

"The sustainable answers won't be found in short-term fixes," says Allan Woods, CIO and vice chairman at Mellon Financial. "Someone has to take this long-term approach on as a vocation."

The consortium will tap into an existing $27 million research grant from NASA, which is also a member, says William Guttman, an economics and technology professor at the university who is co-directing the consortium with colleagues William Scherlis, principal research scientist at the School of Computer Science, and associate economics professor Ashish Arora. Members will meet this summer to form a board of directors and create working groups for specific initiatives, including the development of standards and methodologies to reduce software defects and efforts to quantify and reduce the risks software flaws pose to the nation's computing infrastructure.

Even the White House is weighing in. "Our critical infrastructure protection relies not only on the integrity of government-managed IT infrastructure, but also the IT infrastructure of public and private institutions," Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of President Bush's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said in a statement last week. Improvements in software quality will require a consensus-based approach, he added. "This is an action that must be undertaken immediately if we are to be successful in accelerating progress."

Just don't expect any quick solutions to software quality from the consortium. Its goals--researching the socioeconomic impact of software quality, creating tools for measuring software quality, and documenting best practices to quantify and improve quality and security--could take years to achieve. "This isn't a problem that will be solved overnight," Guttman says.

There's a degree of exclusiveness to the Sustainable Computing Consortium, too. In order to gain access to best practices or to license any technologies developed, companies must be consortium members and pay the $25,000 annual dues. This approach has raised the hackles of some proponents of open-source code, such as the open-advocacy Web site, which lambasted the consortium last week for operating in a "proprietary environment."

But while membership will have its privileges, Guttman hopes the consortium's work will have a broader impact. Says Guttman: "Certain kinds of progress in computer science must be made for the goal of sustainable computing to succeed."

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