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IBM Research and European Union Collaborate to Bolster Reliability of Complex Systems

As physical infrastructure grows increasingly digital, new consortium aims to reduce costly computing errors

Much like personal computers, large, complex systems that manage electric grids, nuclear power plants, transportation operations, and water pipes require periodic critical upgrades to their software. Unlike a single-user PC operating system, however, the consequences of a glitch in system upgrades can be global and costly.

As such, IBM on Wednesday announced a three-year collaboration with the European Union, industry and academic partners, to create new technology designed to bolster the reliability of mission-critical system upgrades by detecting and eliminating errors before they have a chance to result in system failure or complication. Plans include sharing the results of the research project with the open source community.

Called PINCETTE - meaning 'tweezers' in French for the technology's unique 'tweezerlike' ability to flag and eliminate even the smallest software bugs across large networks - the effort aims to dramatically reduce the costs associated maintaining new system software by automating the often complicated analysis and testing processes. Estimates today put costs associated with validating new software between 40% and 70% of a system's life-cycle cost.

The consortium partners, led by IBM Research in Haifa, include: University of Oxford, UK; Universita della Svizzera Italiana (USI), Switzerland; Universita' degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca (UniMiB), Italy; Valtion Teknillinen Tutkimuskeskus (VTT), Finland; Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI), Israel; and ABB, Switzerland and Germany branches.

"The goal behind PINCETTE is to greatly simplify the task of ensuring these complex systems run flawlessly through new automated capabilities that remove costly faults or errors with minimal human intervention," said Dr. Daniel Kroenig of Oxford University, UK, one of the research partners of PINCETTE. "This is an exciting, cost-effective solution that combines simplicity with high reliability."

"We know that upgrading an operating system - whether for system maintenance, hardware upgrades or new regulation compliance - can take days until all applications are up and running smoothly," said Dr. Hana Chockler, IBM scientist and coordinator of the PINCETTE consortium. "The research resulting from PINCETTE will usher in a new era where designers, developers and users of networked control systems can eliminate potential faults before they result in failure."

The European Union-funded PINCETTE research consortium will introduce advanced engineering and management capabilities for networked systems that have high reliability requirements. The project will develop the technology to ensure safe infrastructure upgrades by ensuring the correct functioning of continuously evolving networked software systems. PINCETTE will increase the level of confidence in the safety of upgrades, ultimately enabling certification for the systems and applications that will cut the cost and time to market of upgrades by several orders of magnitude.

Specifically, the consortium expects to achieve a positive increase in system reliability by at least 70% reduction in the number of functional errors, alongside drastic reductions in the time it takes to validate a single change or upgrade and ensure version compatibility.

More Stories By Salvatore Genovese

Salvatore Genovese is a Cloud Computing consultant and an i-technology blogger based in Rome, Italy. He occasionally blogs about SOA, start-ups, mergers and acquisitions, open source and bleeding-edge technologies, companies, and personalities. Sal can be reached at hamilton(at)sys-con.com.

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