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Originally published Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Brier Dudley

City inches toward broadband service

Excerpts from the blog The city of Seattle's ambitious effort to develop a citywide fiber-optic broadband service is moving ahead, but slowly...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Excerpts from the blog

The city of Seattle's ambitious effort to develop a citywide fiber-optic broadband service is moving ahead, but slowly.

That was the gist of an update presented Wednesday at the City Council's energy and technology committee.

After years of committees and task forces, the city hired a consultant last fall to analyze its options. They range from building and operating a municipal system, like Tacoma's, to subsidizing a privately built network with city assets such as right of way and existing fiber lines.

The city now favors a particular approach: It would build the heart of the system, extending fiber to neighborhoods, at which point a private company would connect homes and businesses and sell the broadband services.

A city-owned system may cost $300 million to $400 million and "that doesn't seem to be the wise route now, or ever in the future," committee Chairman Bruce Harrell said.

Councilman Richard McIver floated a bold idea. He suggested the city get a jump on building its own network by acquiring assets from Broadstripe, one of the two companies now providing cable and broadband services in Seattle. St. Louis-based Broadstripe is restructuring after filing for bankruptcy in January.

Combining Broadstripe's network with existing fiber could be an economical way for the city to build a network to homes.

But that might take quick action, and the city has been steadfast in its pursuit of another public-private partnership.

The consultant, Maryland-based Columbia Telecommunications, is now doing a follow-up study further analyzing the "fiber-to-the-neighborhood" option. Qwest and Comcast have used a similar approach.

That study should be done in June, which may give the city enough time to make up its mind on the project in time for its November budgeting.

Theoretically the project could begin as early as 2010, but remember that a broadband task force started this process in 2004 and first suggested heading this direction in 2005.

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In the meantime, Seattle is looking into whether it can qualify for a share of federal stimulus money for broadband projects in rural and underserved communities.

Supercheap

— sort of

Cheaper computers are the hottest part of the market nowadays, and Cray is not going to miss the trend.

The Seattle supercomputer maker announced Wednesday a lower-priced version of its petascale XT5 mega super-duper computer, aimed at penny-pinching researchers in government, academia and business. Maybe now Melinda will finally let Bill get an XT5 for the rec room.

Starting at $500,000, the "midrange" XT5m runs a version of Cray's SeaStar network designed for systems with peak performance less than 100 teraflops. It comes in up to six cabinets filled with quad-core AMD Opteron processors and a SeaStar-based 2D torus interconnect.

(If that's still too much, there's always the starter supercomputer that Cray introduced last fall — the CX1, starting at $25,000 and holding up to 16 Intel Xeon processors.)

Paris-based ESI Group has been using an XT5m to simulate car crashes.

"Thanks to our new parallel paradigm design, we can confirm excellent scalability up to 1024 CPU cores investigating a 2 million elements size car-to-car crash scenario. The computation time was brought down to 25 minutes including domain decomposition and result file merging," ESI crash and safety technical director Raymond Ni said.

If today's supercomputers are tomorrow's PC, this may be your grandchild's Xbox.

Bygones

be bygones

If you missed the Wired report on Sunday, two English majors from UPS in Tacoma won the top blog awards at the South By Southwest conference happening this week in Austin.

Seniors Nick Martens, 21, and Kevin Nguyen, 22, beat pro bloggers to win the best blog category with "The Bygone Bureau: A Journal of Modern Thought."

They're the two in the big photo on Wired's blog from Sunday's award ceremony.

Bygone Bureau was started in 2007 as "a journal of modern thought, specializing in travel writing and cultural criticism."

It would have been a good name for the online version of the P-I.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley's blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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