Cisco's UCS powers Taser police video service

The cloud-based Evidence.com service will pull in video captured by head-mounted cameras for later use as evidence

Cisco Systems' UCS data-center architecture provides the backbone of a service from Taser International that collects and stores video from police cameras.

The cloud-based Evidence.com service from the maker of electronic stun devices allows law enforcement agencies to upload video from head-mounted cameras to Taser's infrastructure, where it is kept safe from interference and can be made available as evidence.

Taser says it chose Cisco's UCS (Unified Computing System) servers and Nexus data-center switches to build an efficient, cost-effective platform that will scale up to serve many customers. The relationship was announced Thursday.

Evidence.com is already being used in a pilot project by the Fort Smith, Arkansas, police department, and video collected by the system has already been used to clear an officer of wrongdoing, according to Taser Chairman Tom Smith. Small cameras that officers can mount over their ears shoot 720x480-pixel video when the officer presses a button.

After being stored on a small touchscreen device carried by the officer, the video is encrypted and uploaded to Evidence.com through a Taser appliance. The value of the service lies in the fact that no one can tamper with the original video from the time it is shot until it is used as evidence.

"Once a video has been captured, it can never be altered, deleted or removed from the system by the officer," Smith said. To review footage and prepare it for presentation, police and others users work only with copies of the material.

Even though the camera typically only captures video during actual incidents, after the officer presses a button, an officer may capture two or three hours of video during a shift, at 1G byte or more per hour. Taser also is developing tools to analyze the video, including a geographical analysis tool based on Microsoft Bing mapping technology.

Taser needed a virtualized data center that could scale up as more law-enforcement agencies signed up for the service. It chose UCS, with Cisco's first blade servers, to power an infrastructure hosted in Equinix collocation facilities. Its initial setup, in just one location, contains 4 petabytes of storage capacity on IBM equipment, said Yogesh Saini, senior vice president of global Internet services at Taser.

Cisco is making an aggressive move into data-center infrastructure because it sees the network, its traditional stronghold, becoming the key part of an overall system to deliver virtualized computing and storage capacity. Other major IT vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM, also are expanding their reach to enable this type of overall architecture.

Taser looked at alternatives including HP and IBM but chose Cisco for several reasons. One was the large amount of memory available in its UCS blade-server systems, which matched what the company needed to process the huge amounts of video coming in, Saini said. Also, Cisco offered a comprehensive solution, including firewalls and intrusion prevention systems, that still allowed the company to deploy storage from IBM.

But one Cisco selling point for Taser was price, rarely a strong point for Cisco in its typical networking market. The choice saved Taser about US$900,000 in upfront capital expenditures -- a savings of 20 percent to 25 percent -- and should cut another $30,000 to $40,000 per year because of lower energy costs, Saini said.

Evidence.com currently runs on two UCS chassis, each with 8 blades, which are connected to two Cisco Nexus 7000 data-center switches. Using VMware virtualization software, the company has set up about 15 virtual machines for every physical server, Saini said.

Taser plans to expand the infrastructure with more equipment and additional sites, still making it all appear as a single cloud, he said. Cisco's own Advanced Services group acted as the system integrator on the project, which cost more than $5 million just for data-center infrastructure, according to Saini.

The first pilot of Evidence.com, in Fort Smith, began in October and is expected to go on until mid-January, Smith said. Taser has also lined up a pilot with the police department in San Jose, California, which is expected to start later this month. Though the service costs about $5,700 per officer for three years, that's a fraction of the cost of typical in-car police video systems, he said.

In developing UCS, Cisco benefited from a clean slate, good server talent hired from the established players, and virtualization expertise from partner VMware, according to Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Brian Babineau. The platform stands out for its network connectivity options and the fact that it can pack so much processing power in a relatively small form factor, he said.

However, as the new kid on the block in servers, Cisco so far is relying on deals for new, smaller applications rather than massive data-center replacements, Babineau said. That's a hard place to be in the current economy.

"There's not as many opportunities as I think Cisco would like, on the new-rollout side of things," Babineau said.

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