Monday, April 26, 2010

What's in your container?

I had the good fortune of spending the weekend at Long Beach. I have only been there a couple of times; the first time I walked the streets of Long Beach was in March, 1977. I was midway through a three-week drive that took me from Edmonton, Alberta where I was living at the time, to Dallas, Texas, across to San Diego, and then all the way up the West Coast to Seattle before turning inland and heading back to Edmonton via Hope, British Columbia. The picture above is from an inside passageway on the Queen Mary, anchored just across from the foreshore streets of Long Beach.

It was by accident that I had found my way to Long Beach for the weekend of the 1977 Formula One (F1) Grand Prix that was being held on the streets of Long Beach. Last weekend, the outing was pre-planned, and I had tickets to see the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach which featured Indy, and Indy Lights, races as well as a round in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).

As a passionate Corvette owner who routinely takes the car onto the track, this year’s ALMS event was going to be exciting as Corvettes would be battling fiercely with Ferraris, BMWs, and Porsches. I was joining other Corvette owners in the Corvette Corral that’s a combination hospitality suite, car show, and a place to hang out with ALMS execs and former Corvette racers. This allowed us to drive right to the track and to park alongside grandstands flanking the main straight.

So much has changed since 1977, and today it’s a less safe world we live in and of course, any popular attraction that draws large crowds always comes under scrutiny. Before I left the hotel I had to hang a blue card from my rear vision mirror that would allow me to pass through the many security checkpoints and make it through to the Corvette Corral. After parking next to the track, and looking up at the grandstands, the first thing that caught my eye were the cameras atop police vehicles transmitting live feeds of everyone who entered the footbridges which gave access to the grandstands and infield attractions. Long Beach’s true nature cannot be hidden for long and from my seat I had a good view of the massive cranes arrayed alongside the many terminals, standing as patient as herons as though looking to spear errant containers.

The size of the facility is impressive and as the deepest port on the US Pacific Coast it handles the largest container vessels in operation today. It is a less safe world today, and this is especially the case when it comes to protecting any country’s borders. This is particularly apparent when it comes to coastlines such as those that line each side of the continental United States. While the spectator facilities at Long Beach were surrounded by fences and cameras, looking across at the container port facilities, there were miles of high chain-link fences and manned barriers visible everywhere! None of us would welcome an empty container, for instance, that wasn’t really empty!

While port authorities often are the owners of the facilities, they service many tenants who each have fleets of ships and supporting ground transportation infrastructure. Ships manifests have to be checked, cargo screened for unwanted or hazardous materials, the crew screened for possible unwanted visitors, and all the personnel working on the docks need to be checked to make sure they are who they are supposed to be and are present on the docks when they are required. Securing ports today involves many local and national agencies and the interactions between them can ill afford to be delayed, or the information communicated end up in the wrong hands.

This requires enormous cooperation between local, regional, and national authorities including police forces, the coast guard, and even the navy. Multi-national information sharing is also a necessity as the majority of ships sailing along the coastline are flying the flags of foreign countries. It is against this background that EDS, before it was acquired by HP, had been developing considerable expertise in freight logistics and cargo security. It was during a brainstorming session around a white board in Plano, Texas in the months following 2001, where EDS consultants looked to revitalize the company’s freight logistics market strategy that the idea of transitioning to securing cargos and critical global infrastructures first emerged. Leveraging the knowledge of others within EDS and the work underway addressing the security concerns of other clients, what was to become the Virtual Operation Center (VOC) first appeared.

VOC, a .Net based solution, provides an integrated, single view of Maritime terminal and infrastructure operations. As the discussions in Plano progressed, it became clear that with VOC, EDS had a comprehensive framework as well as a highly flexible and powerful client “front-end” and that adding even more “situational awareness” data, in real time, would involve adding an operational data store. EDS was subsequently acquired by HP and, in the months that followed, was merged with the former HP consulting services to become the HP Enterprise Services (HPES).

In the information exchanges that followed, the newly formed HPES team became aware of the Zero Latency Enterprise initiative and of the capabilities of the HP NonStop Server and of the NonStop SQL data base. Mary Kwan of HP Business Critical Server (BCS) marketing, responsible for worldwide Public Sector business, began to provide HPES with the information, and indeed, the “enthusiastic support” that they were looking for. Today, the Maritime Domain Awareness initiative that has taken shape out of the first whiteboard sessions in Plano offers tremendous value to port authorities worldwide.

“Our initial focus was on the critical business issues in Freight Logistics and the Government Supply Chain,” Barry Ptashkin, of HPES Global Government Industry told me. Barry then added, “Zero Latency was not our focus in 2005 but has become another important value added component in resolving the needs for decision support in critical operations and we are working to formalize our integrated and converged platform point-of-view.” The roll-out of this new solution involving the HP NonStop Servers is just getting under way and it’s still very early days for the project, but already I can see it proving to be valuable.

"We are very excited to work in the Maritime Domain Awareness initiative with HPES. This is exactly the type of synergies that the HP/EDS merger was seeking, and it is excellent to see it happen within NonStop, Winston Prather, Vice President & General Manager emailed me. He then added, “HPES readily recognized the value that NonStop's database could bring to this initiative and we of course are very positive about the joint opportunities brought by this new solution area."

Earlier in my career I had worked for a container shipping company and readers may recall the post of March 2008, “The need for standardization!” However, working with HPES this past week reminded me of how, in the mid 1970s, I just walked onto the docks of the container terminal in Sydney Harbor as a giant floating crane lifted three yachts onto the deck of an Overseas Container Line (OCL) ship bound for the U.K. No Ids were checked, no challenges issued, and the only longshoreman who glanced my way seemed satisfied when I told him I worked for OCL!

The amount of information being shared between ports nationally, as well as internationally, requires exceptional cooperation in order to be effective. Ports can no longer operate independently as “silos”, isolated from the activities of other ports. The Maritime Domain Awareness initiative continues to evolve and there’s now an additional layer present in the solution. Patriot Data Solutions Group (PDSG) has integrated its highly successful Crossflo DataExchange® (CDX) product with the solution from HP, enabling the direct interface into numerous government agencies with interests in ensuring the countries coastlines are secure.

I had first heard of PDSG when at the last HPTF & Expo event in Las Vegas, where PDSG talked of their participation in an information sharing project in Montana in the healthcare marketplace. Today, CDX is turning out to be an invaluable “layer” integrated with the rest of the Maritime Domain Awareness solution that hooks it into the many government agencies required. Networking with these agencies requires understanding of the many new government protocols and standards as much of the information is sensitive and subject to government legislation when it comes to revealing the data on file. However, PDSG has become one of the few companies to have successfully navigated this potential landmine, and the runtime environment in support of CDX today runs on NonStop!

“PDSG's CDX product on HP NonStop is a key component of the Maritime Domain Awareness solution to enable information sharing across departments or law enforcement agencies in real-time because national or local security requires 24 X 7,” explained Mary Kwan of HP worldwide BCS marketing who is responsible for Public Sector business. Mary went on to explain that it is not a toolkit or a loose collection of products and components, adding “HP is bringing all these components together for the customers as an end-to-end integrated Maritime Domain Awareness /Port Security solution ‘from HP’”.

In previous posts to this blog I have looked at a number of new applications in the Financial Services marketplace but I am often asked about the applications in other markets and this one has the potential to develop a significant market presence, as no country can operate in isolation. The Maritime Awareness initiative’s engagement with the NonStop division is a very positive development for all who belong to the NonStop community.

I couldn’t imagine the safety of the nation’s coastlines entrusted to anything other than a solution with 24 X 7, reliable availability! True, I will always want my ATM’s to be available and full of cash, of course, but somehow, making sure empty containers are really empty containers with no chance of dispensing anything else, warrants all that NonStop can deliver!

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