Cloud // Cloud Storage
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3/30/2010
04:44 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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If You've Got Big Data, You May Want Big Memory

Jas Dhillon, CTO of Taser, explained to me last December how his company has gone from delivering stunning shocks to unruly police suspects to shocking the competition via cloud computing. In continuing to follow Taser's innovative approach, I found a story behind the story of how Taser was able to do this.

Jas Dhillon, CTO of Taser, explained to me last December how his company has gone from delivering stunning shocks to unruly police suspects to shocking the competition via cloud computing. In continuing to follow Taser's innovative approach, I found a story behind the story of how Taser was able to do this.I first talked to Taser about Evidence.com, their video system for gathering and storing evidence in the cloud, in this report December 19, Taser Builds Cisco-based Data Warehouse, and followed it up March 9 with a blog on Taser Cloud Manager Leads Experiment In Police Evidence.

On March 16, I found Taser CTO Jas Dhillon, someone I had been talking to via long distance, on the stage in front of me at Cloud Connect 2010, the conference staged March 15-18 in Santa Clara, Calif. "Clouds can be used for information requiring a high degree of security," Dhillon asserted. He wasn't talking about securing identities or meeting credit card industry standards. He was talking about video evidence that would stand up in court as evidence that could be proven to be untampered with.

"Evidence data is incredibly heavily regulated. Get it wrong and the criminal goes free," he said.

With the Taser system, a police officer wears a small head set camera, which can be started with the push of a button and captures up to two hours of evidence of what the officer sees and does. The camera's video can only be downloaded to a Taser unit at the police station, an Evidence Transfer Master, which ships it over the Internet to the Taser built cloud, Evidence.com. It can be downloaded and edited from the cloud, but an unchanged master copy is always on file at Evidence.com.

With such a system, "False claims go down" and the efficiency of officers on the beat goes up, Dhillon claimed. Taser is charging $5,700 per officer over a three year period or $1,900 a year. If the system disrupts or forestalls one police versus public dispute over the evidence, it saves all the dollars that a department spends on independent evidence collection. A shooting incident typically costs a local department $250,000-$300,000 in evidence collection, said Dhillon.

I think transparency in local law enforcement would be a good thing, for reasons in addition to the ones that Dhillon cited on the stage, and many excellent local law enforcement officers would agree. But such a system would be expensive for any local department to build. It works as a cloud system in part because it's designed to work in a secure, automatic fashion without needing a local administrator to perform the device download and storage function. Taser has started out with a 10 petabytes of storage at Evidence.com and is ready to scale up to exabytes of storage, if the system catches on.

But how can it keep the expense low? The amount of memory needed at each step in the process is large. And both the Evidence.com computing and the transfer system have to work at high rates of speed to avoid having officers sitting around waiting for data transfers.

The story behind Evidence.com is that it is built through Cisco's Unified Computing Solution, the blade technology tied into a network fabric. It works at 10 Gb per second speeds and the blade servers can work with very large amounts of memory, more than can be built into the typical x86 server. One departmental upload could amount to two hours of video or 2.8 GBs of data.

I knew Cisco blades worked with very large amounts of memory, 384 GBs a server, which would enable them to store and move large amounts of video around or subdivide the server into multiple virtual machines, each capable of moving a video stream. But I didn't understand how. For most manufacturers, an Intel Nehalem server is going to carry 96 GBs of memory at top performance, or 144 GBs at a performance level that's 20% off peak because it's using less expensive and less than optimum direct, inline memory modules. Cisco sidestepped this restriction because both virtualized servers and cloud computing servers are hungry for more memory.

In 2006 Cisco started investing in Nuova Systems and in 2008, purchased the company to operate as an independent subsidiary. Nuova makes a custom ASIC that "fools each (Nehalem) chip into seeing four DIMMS as one," which allows Cisco to pack the server with four times the memory of a standard server, according to the report, Unified Computing, Cisco and the Competition," by the 451 Group.

This has allowed Cisco, an untested blade provider, to get its foot in the door at Taser. And it remains a feature that I don't hear anyone talking about, including HP and IBM. Which makes me think it's leading edge. "Competitors have said less about this feature than any other, indicating it's the one they fear most," wrote John Abbott of the 451 Group in his Dec. 22 report.

Taser has built a Cisco blade system in the cloud because it's well adapted to function there for a high data volume operation. It's a symbol of how IT services will be built and managed in the future. Economies of scale exist in the cloud that are hard to duplicate inside every local police department. Relying on one, standard architecture across many users -- the Evidence Transfer Master, the Internet, and Intel Nehalem x86 servers supplied with a unified communications fabric in the cloud-- results in automated systems delivering advanced services at a low price.

If it works with sensitive police evidence, it may work on a system near you.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Cisco's next-gen network strategy. Download the report here (registration required).

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