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Oracle 10g, biometrics help Motorola fight crime

Motorola is using Oracle 10g to back up biometrics image-scanning devices used in crime fighting and border control.

Anyone who's seen the hit television series CSI has probably seen tools similar to those found in Motorola Inc.'s biometric product suite, including those used for taking fingerprints and palm prints to identify criminals. But what they didn't see was the Oracle database backing up those products.

Speaking during an interview at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco last week, John Bredehoft, Motorola's biometrics product manager, said his company uses Oracle Database 10g to manage that image data and recommends the same database management system to its customers.

"Counting all of our [biometric] product lines, we have over 300 installations and we're in nearly 40 countries," Bredehoft said. "We have everything from small local systems like in Bullhead City, Arizona, all the way to large national systems."

But it wasn't always that way. Before upgrading to Oracle about four years ago, Motorola was using Sybase as the back end for its biometrics product lines. At the time, the products focused mainly on fingerprinting. But with new biometric technologies on the horizon and increasing security concerns following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Motorola was in the process of expanding its offering.

Motorola had been using Sybase during its client-server days and has since switched to multi-tier service-oriented architecture. During that transition, it became clear that Motorola needed a new database system to address its changing needs, Bredehoft said.

The company now needed the ability to easily store images of fingerprints, palm prints, facial features and iris scans, as well as the feature data associated with those images and the textual data.

Motorola said it switched first to the Oracle 8i database, and then two years ago began making the jump directly to Oracle 10g. Bredehoft said that one reason Oracle ultimately became the clear choice was its support of Extensible Markup Language (XML).

"One of the challenges we had with the previous generation was that every agency had a different way that they wanted to do their data. It wasn't driven by standards," Bredehoft said. "With Oracle, we were able to take whatever XML came into the workstation, store it into the database and come up with different database schemas for every customer."

Another reason Motorola chose Oracle was for its self-management capabilities.

"A lot of our business is state and local, and they're not necessarily going to have an Oracle DBA on staff," Bredehoft said. "The self-service capabilities were really important."

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Today, Motorola's palm print, mug shot and fingerprint-matching biometric products cover a wide variety of areas where keeping track of individuals is essential. The company says its customers include border patrols, police departments and other government agencies. The company also makes mobile devices that let police take and match fingerprints from the comfort of their cruisers.

"[The products are] both for crimefighting and then also for simple management applications like border security, welfare benefits and gated access control," Bredehoft said.

One of Motorola's clients, the government of Switzerland, uses Motorola biometric systems to keep track of refugees who flood its borders. The systems they use allow border agents to take an image from someone in the field and transmit it back to an Oracle database. Switzerland just recently upgraded to Oracle, he added. Serbia, another Motorola client, uses the systems in much the same way.

Bredehoft said that one issue that can always be improved is the speed with which the biometrics systems match images with identities, and this has a lot to do with indexing. The product manager said he's looking forward to the new indexing features that Oracle is currently working on because they should help to make the process faster.

"I know they are planning some indexing improvements," Bredehoft said, adding that XML enhancements within the database are also on the way.

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