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Linux and Public Safety

One database to benefit many

On June 30, IBM and two U.S. senators announced the initial deployment of a system to link local Mississippi law enforcement agencies to a single database of public safety information. The federally funded project will deliver public safety information across Mississippi to the desktop and a range of mobile devices.

The announcement, which included software vendor Tarantella, is additional proof of Linux's importance in the government sector. The State of Mississippi Automated System Project (ASP) will provide local officials with real-time access to public safety information including mug shots, arrest warrants, criminal intelligence, hazardous materials data, and medical emergency protocols, enhancing their ability to prevent and respond to incidents that pose a danger to the public. The project is expected to be fully deployed in October 2004.

The system consists of one IBM eServer iSeries 825 and two eServer xSeries 445 systems running Tarantella Secure Global Desktop Enterprise Edition remote access software, Novell's SUSE LINUX, and IBM DB2 in a single data center (see Figure 1). The data center will be replicated at an additional site to ensure reliability.

The system does have some provisions for security. "The data is protected by the Tarantella server, which authenticates every user before connecting them to the database. It also encrypts all data that it sent among the different agencies and provides firewalls," said Jay Bretzmann, director, IBM eServer products. No information was provided on any data integrity procedures that would guard against data errors that would trigger false arrest warrants or misidentify "criminal intelligence."

Multidevice access is also planned for the system using Tarantella software. "Tarantella Secure Global Desktop Enterprise Edition is the platform of choice for delivering highly secure remote access to Linux-based applications across any network to virtually any device," said Frank Wilde, CEO of Tarantella. "This combination of IBM eServer, Enterprise Edition,and Novell's SUSE LINUX will offer law enforcement and safety personnel unmatched capabilities to secure the safety of our nation."

"It is critical that all of our first responders have instant access to the critical information that can save lives, speed arrests, and ensure public safety," said Major Julian Allen, PhD, director of the Automated System Project. "IBM and Tarantella have delivered a secure and robust server/software solution that provides this secure remote access capability without any single point of failure."

Java has a huge role to play in this project. "Java Web services and J2EE on Linux will play a major role in our overall system architecture as we continue to expand our services throughout the state," said Chris Alley, chief architect of the ASP project.

In an era where the use of client-side Java is moribund at best, the Tarantella browser-based user interface makes novel use of the Java platform. It displays a bit-mapped image of the client side of the application to a Web browser on the end user's PC. The Tarantella application then downloads a small-footprint Java applet that handles SSL encryption, compression, caching, and bandwidth optimization.

Java is also playing a large role on the server side of the ASP. A core piece of the application architecture, the Jail Management architecture, is being written in J2EE on top of an Apache/Tomcat/JBOSS-based operating system. It uses the Java subsystem JDBC to access the data warehouse that resides on DB2.

Riding a trend of increasing integration of Linux into enterprise and government computing environments, the ASP system will be used to integrate data from several sources. "[W]e'll integrate with the state criminal information center and NCIC," said Alley, referring to the FBI's National Crime Information Center. "We'll also be working with the Department of Homeland Security to get access to JRIES (Joint Regional Information Exchange System)."

The current plan for ASP is to provide a single warehouse for data coming from "first responder" agencies like police and fire departments and emergency medical systems. Once this is built out, the project will use Web services as a point of integration. "[W]e'll use a Java/open source-based Web services architecture to perform real-time lookups and updates with other systems," said Alley.

It is unique that two high-ranking U.S. politicians would associate themselves so closely with such a technical subject. The project was funded by $14 million in federal grants through the efforts of U.S. senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Trent Lott (R-MS). The grants were made to the University of Southern Mississippi, an area of the country that has seen much federal largesse as a result of Lott's efforts. This includes a Northrup Grumman shipyard, which builds and services U.S. Navy ships in Lott's hometown of Pascagoula.

The communications and electronics business sectors, of which both IBM and Tarantella are members, have been significant supporters of the senators from Mississippi. While no publicly available records were found that indicated IBM or Tarantella donated directly to the senators, the industry has given a combined total of $259,532 to their fund-raising organizations from 1999 to the latest reporting period. This data was obtained from the Center For Responsive Politics.

It is hoped that the project will become a national model for linking more states together using a centralized software applications model. The initial deployment of the Mississippi ASP will support all law enforcement, fire department, and emergency medical services within Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson counties. The participants hope that the system will be rolled out across all of Mississippi.

More Stories By Bill Roth

Bill Roth is a Silicon Valley veteran with over 20 years in the industry. He has played numerous product marketing, product management and engineering roles at companies like BEA, Sun, Morgan Stanley, and EBay Enterprise. He was recently named one of the World's 30 Most Influential Cloud Bloggers.

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