Government going Apple?

The Army has video surveillance based on the Mac OS platform. Who's next?
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Friday, October 9, 2009

WASHINGTON—What would you say if you heard the U.S. Army has four video surveillance installations that are based on Apple’s OSX operating system, and use Apple servers? Or that a large government entity had just initiated an all-Apple installation?

The government doesn’t use Apple, does it?

Chris Gettings, CEO and president of VideoNEXT, a video management software manufacturer, is betting the government does, and it will. The VideoNEXT software is tuned for the Red Hat Linux and Apple operating environments, along with Windows, so that a user can go with both Red Hat’s operating system or Apple’s, in addition to Windows.

Gettings said Apple and Unix/Linux are attractive to government customers because of reliability and ease of use. “It just runs,” he said of the Apple platform. “You’re not going to have some of the memory-leak issues that seem to plague different versions of the Windows systems. And mission-critical customers appreciate that.” And while Red Hat is a Unix-like platform with its Linux, “with Apple they couple the Unix reliability with a world-class user interface. That’s the stumbling block on Red Hat. It’s a little bit complicated ... The user interface for Apple is marvelous. It’s so easy to use and intuitive. It’s the hallmark of the platform.”

Pat Mercer, security business leader/sales manager based at Siemens’ Beltsville, Md., branch, said at the large government entity with which he’s currently installing an Apple-based surveillance system “the initial reaction with the IT department was not positive, but when you ask them what their requirements are, they say, ‘low bandwidth, and I need to make sure nothing is going to hack into my network via your system.’ That’s where the Mac conversation begins. The viruses, hacking, all of those things are dramatically minimized with Apple and it eliminates a lot of those challenges.”

Mercer said he’s also working with two commercial installations that are Apple-based right now. In both cases, he said, he made an initial presentation that was Windows-based, but then re-quoted with VideoNEXT and Apple and was able to keep the price-point the same to the end user and even increase his margin by a hair. “So we delivered more power, more storage, easier to use, all at the same price point to the customer,” he said.

But aren’t most IT departments trained to install Windows-based systems? How can government customers, who probably have a contract with Dell for very cheap machines, move to Apple?

Gettings allowed that not every customer is going to be able to support Apple systems, but “we’ve been shipping on Red Hat Linux for years, so if they’re supporting a Linux environment, they won’t have any difficulty with Apple,” said Gettings. “Those that are on Windows, it is a bit of a hurdle. But we’ll have that same hurdle whether we’re offering a Dell with Linux or OSX on an Apple.”

The reason Gettings likes Apple hardware is because of its consistency. He said he can order two Dell servers two weeks apart and find that small things like a specific chip has been changed on the motherboard, which doesn’t show up on the specifications, but can slightly affect his software’s performance. With Apple “it sounds like mumbo jumbo,” he said, but the company tunes every piece of the hardware to work together on its platform and exacts efficiency from the result. Thus, Gettings claimed, he can put as many as 60 cameras on one Apple server that, according the specifications, has the same performance abilities as a Dell or HP server that can only serve 50 cameras.

“That can be a measurable difference in some of these larger deployments,” Gettings said.

Mercer said he’s not been yet able to measure that in the field, but that VideoNEXT demonstrate that in the offices. “Of course, you can demonstrate anything on the bench,” he said, “it’s real-life applications where it happens or it doesn’t. We’ll see on this installation.”