Big Blue, meet Big Brother

Looking to cash in on an increased demand for video surveillance and other security related services, IBM said on Tuesday that it would offer services to help companies deploy digital video surveillance and security systems.

The new services are designed to help companies make a transition from older, videotape-based surveillance systems to IP-based surveillance networks, IBM said in a statement.

As opposed to analog video equipment, digital video makes possible new, more flexible systems that can store images electronically while communicating with the rest of an organization's information technology (IT) and security infrastructure such as badge readers and intrusion detection systems, IBM said.

IBM will be offering consulting, system design and integration services, as well as hardware and software installation and maintenance.

Switching from videotape to IP-based surveillance also enables company to add intelligence to the images captured by the digital video cameras, according to IBM.

For example, customers could deploy systems that recognize a brandished weapon or suspicious movements in a customs line, or allow security professionals to index and quickly review the faces of all individuals who used a particular entrance to a building, IBM said.

In addition to its consulting expertise, IBM plans to tie a variety of products in to its digital video surveillance offerings, including the company's eServer servers, WebSphere application servers, storage systems and Tivoli storage management software, it said.

IBM will also work with a number of independent software vendors (ISVs) that make digital video surveillance products, Amy Lipton, marketing executive for IBM's Global Digital Media Services group, said.

"This is a huge opportunity in the services area, the software area, the content management area, as well as in the storage area and the server area," said Lipton.

The retail sector as well as transportation, travel and government customers are all areas where IBM sees demand for digital video surveillance technology solutions. IBM is predicting the market for digital video surveillance will reach US$5 billion by 2005.

One example of the types of projects that IBM will undertake with the new service is National Car Parks Ltd. (NCP) in the U.K. That organization installed more than 400 digital video cameras in its commercial parking lots that can be monitored from a single control room, according to Lipton.

By centralizing management of the cameras, NCP has been able to increase its hours and staffing during crucial periods, Lipton said. In making its move into digital video surveillance, IBM will be competing in a market populated by specialized small and mid-sized companies, according to Lipton.

"It's an emerging market, but it's emerging rapidly," said Lou Latham, a research analyst at Gartner Inc.

Accordingly, the Armonk, New York company is showing an uncharacteristic pluck in entering the surveillance market.

"IBM is known for being conservative -- moving into a market when it's more mature. With (video surveillance) they've been more aggressive than usual about getting out in front of the curve," Latham said.

While outfitting parking garages, retail outlets and parking garages may not grab headlines, it might help IBM lay the groundwork for the next wave of digital video and broadband media adoption in the enterprise, according to Latham.

"One of the reasons that they're emphasizing this apparently mundane application is that it's very easy to demonstrate value. You're dealing with people with an extremely critical immediate need. The fancier uses of video in the corporate environment -- those are a more complicated sell and (the demand for that) is fairly flat," Latham said.

As for the inevitable questions that enhanced video surveillance raises about encroaching on civil liberties, Lipton said that IBM is sensitive to such issues and hopes to "work on issues like those as well."

For the time being, the company's security solutions are targeted squarely at meeting market needs, Lipton said.

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