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Column-oriented database speeds predictive criminal monitoring program

Column-oriented database software is helping one law enforcement technology firm keep track of lawbreakers and predict criminal behavior.

The decision to go with column-oriented database software over traditional row-based offerings is helping one provider of law enforcement technology to predict criminal behavior.

Headquartered in Sandy, Utah, SecureAlert Inc. is a provider of Global Positioning System (GPS) location technology that allows police officers and courts to track and monitor criminal offenders in real time, according to Steve Florek, the company's managing director of offender insights and knowledge management. But the technology also helps law enforcement predict criminal behavior ahead of time.

SecureAlert provides GPS-enabled ankle bracelets that keep track of pre-trial defendants, parolees and convicted criminals free on probation. And if, for example, a car thief is spending too much time near an auto dealership, or a sex offender is spending too much time near a school, SecureAlert's monitoring center can send up a virtual red flag that prompts law enforcement to take preventative measures.

The predictive element of SecureAlert's service kicks in whenever curious patterns are detected in offenders' movements. For example, SecureAlert's monitoring center once detected that a paroled sex offender in California was showing up at the same exact intersection at about 2 p.m. each day. Further investigation revealed that the intersection was a school bus stop, Florek said. As a result, the situation was "escalated" to a more serious level and local police were informed of the pattern. Florek said his company is working to enhance its predictive capabilities by further automating this process from pattern detection to location research.

"For a company of our size, we generate a whole heck of a lot of data. We currently are doing about a couple million transactions per day," Florek explained. "The nature of this data is that it keeps coming at you 24 hours a day, and it tends to be fairly repetitive in that one GPS trace differs from another, usually by a very small amount. The most up-to-date is generally the most useful and relevant."

SecureAlert, which currently tracks about 3,000 offenders in the United States and is expanding internationally, had been running its service primarily on Microsoft SQL Server, according to Florek. But the growing business started running into some scalability issues and, about a year ago, it turned to ParAccel to alleviate the problem.

Florek looked at a variety of database-related tools for the job, including column-oriented and row-based systems. Some of the tools Florek considered included Oracle BI Enterprise Edition and software from Teradata, Netezza and Vertica.

Netezza was knocked out of the running because Florek and his team felt the product's data compression capabilities needed improvement. Oracle, Teradata, Netezza and Vertical were eliminated due to price considerations. ParAccel allows customers to get started with less hardware and software – and thus a lower price point – than the other vendors, he explained. Florek also liked the fact that ParAccel was willing to add some custom spatial technology.

Florek said ParAccel's column-oriented database technology has been a big success despite the fact that ParAccel could use more management tools – either from third-party providers or the vendor itself. After going live with ParAccel about a year ago, SecureAlert immediately alleviated its performance bottleneck. The company is now using ParAccel as the foundation for the advancement of its predictive monitoring program.

"We're going to be expanding our use of this predictive modeling technology and coming up with different and newer applications for that," Florek said. "The [ParAccel] database provides us a scalable platform on which to run this type of analytics."

Column-oriented database technology changing the competitive landscape
During product evaluations, ParAccel usually goes up against data warehouse vendors like SAP-Sybase, Vertica, Infobright and SenSage, which integrate column-oriented database capabilities into their offerings, according to James Kobielus, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. But this once-exclusive category of providers is growing, he added, because traditional row-oriented data warehouse vendors like Oracle and IBM are increasingly working columnar approaches into their architectures.

ParAccel's flagship offering is the ParAccel Analytic Database v 2.5. One of the product's key strengths is its column-oriented database management software, which offers a significant query performance and storage efficiency advantage over row-oriented databases, Kobielus said. Other key strengths include shared-nothing massively parallel processing capabilities; its partners with multiple hardware vendors; newly enhanced compression capabilities; storage area network integration; and developing partnerships which promise to enhance the product going forward.

ParAccel's weaknesses stem mostly from the company's distinction of being a small startup with somewhat limited resources, Kobielus said. ParAccel lacks pre-integrated business intelligence, and extract, transform, load tools as well as in-database analytics support in the current version.

ParAccel customers like SecureAlert and Provisio Inc. – the creator of a data-intensive service designed to help doctors and pharmaceutical firms conduct clinical trials – say that the availability of management tools for the Analytic Database offering is currently lacking.

Provisio's senior information architect, Sean Harrison, noted in a July interview that he would have been happier if ParAccel offered more development tools for writing SQL code and other tasks. SecureAlert's Florek, meanwhile, said he wants a bigger choice of ParAccel-compatible management tools from third-party software vendors, although he predicts that more tools will be introduced over time.

Column-oriented database words of wisdom
Organizations mulling the purchase of column-oriented database technology should remember to keep an open mind and give smaller vendors a chance, according to Florek. A longtime veteran of the IT industry, Florek said companies tend to stick with what they know in terms of technology. IBM shops look at IBM technology. Oracle shops look at Oracle technology. But sometimes, Florek said, it pays to see what else is available.

"It's very helpful to go get your head out of the sand once in a while because there are always new technology new startups that are really improving on the state of the art and often at a much better price point than conventional solutions," he said.

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