Taser's Cisco UCS-based data center project too big to fail

Using Cisco's Unified Computing System, a stun gun company that outfits law enforcement has morphed into a cloud computing-based IT service provider.

LAS VEGAS – At the Gartner Data Center Conference last week, Cisco trotted out a panel of customers using its new Unified Computing System (UCS), the much-hyped integrated server and network switch platform.

The most interesting case study was from Taser International Inc., the company best known for its stun-gun technology. Taser jumped from stun-gun manufacturer to law enforcement IT service provider in 98 days, building an off-the-shelf cloud computing platform on Cisco' Systems Inc.'s UCS technology. The cloud is hosted at the Equinix data center in Los Angeles.

SearchCloudComputing.com recently interviewed Taser's Vince Stephens, the vice president of network operations, and said the Taser "Cop Cloud" enables police offers to upload data on stun gun use, such as the time and number of shots fired, which the Cop Cloud presents in a user-friendly format that is usable in court.

In this interview, Rick Smith, CEO of Taser explains why the company entered the cloud computing business and its decision to build the platform on Cisco's UCS servers.

How did you decide to get into the cloud computing business?
Rick Smith: When we started developing the software plan, my initial thinking was we'd do what every other hardware vendor in our space has done: develop software and then the law enforcement agencies can use and run in it in their own data centers. We were interviewing people to lead the software effort, and one of the candidates I interviewed was Jas Dhillon, former senior director for business strategy at Microsoft Office Live and founder of BlueLine Online, one of the first SaaS [Software as a Service] providers in the late 1990s. During the interview, Jas looked at me and asked how many customers we had. We have around 15,000 police departments. And he said 'Rick, you're not a software company, and you have to realize that setting up 15,000 servers at 15,000 agencies, the support staff alone would bury us.' And he started teaching me about cloud computing and Software as a Service, and he said if ever there was an application for cloud computing, this was it. Lots of small agencies, most without significant IT staff, highly complex technical problems, no installed current solution of any significance as most have been using VHS tapes. Jas was the guy who convinced me. I hired the guy on the spot. Why did you go with Cisco's UCS?
Smith: Vince Stephens brought us the concept: The servers are a commodity. We had to get these servers connected to each other, and because we needed to be built out for massive amounts of data, we had to have the highest throughput available. Cisco had just come out with this, the integrated switch in the server, and it had the advantages of less cabling, and the ability to handle 384 GB of memory. All of our technical guys were going, "This is really cool."

There was also a business risk: We didn't want to miss a technology turn now. We might be on the front edge of an innovation. If we went old school, we might have a competitor build on newer technology and put us at a disadvantage.

Personally, I liked the idea that Taser could be first. We're new to the space, people think of us as a hardware company. Here's an opportunity for us to grab the reins and be seen as an innovator. When Cisco saw our application, they got excited, because it's kind of sexy, [a] very high-profile application.

The marriage made a lot of sense. But what pushed us over the edge to make a move into brand-new technology was the fact that we knew Cisco couldn't let us fail. With multiple vendors, we wouldn't have that same level of accountability. With this arrangement, we have a team that needs this to work as much as we do.

You say that police departments are challenged by managing digital evidence. Can you give an example of how cloud computing offers a better solution?
Smith: There was a midsized town in Washington State, and I was talking to an officer who sat on the Law Enforcement Video Association Board; he cares a lot about video. They set up a server to handle their video evidence files and one day he came to work and the color of his drive icon had changed.

He called up IT and asked why the icon changed on the evidence server. And IT said they noticed he was about to run out of hard drive space, so they installed a compressor and compressed all the data, and he now has 50% more drive space. And he freaks out and said, "Did you realize we have just altered 100% of our digital evidence?"

That may be OK in most industries, but when you're talking about evidence, under federal rules there is not allowance for compression for hard-drive space. You've just tampered with all of your digital evidence. For every prosecution case that used digital evidence, the agency now had to go to the court and explain why they didn't have the files anymore.

We believe the advantage of the cloud approach is we can do things on a scale for thousands of agencies that they can't do themselves.

What did you think of this feature? Write to SearchDataCenter.com's Matt Stansberry about your data center concerns at mstansberry@techtarget.com.

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