Cemax buys Virtual Imaging, rides software wave

February 10, 1993

Cemax purchased Virtual Imaging last month and gained a leg upin a race to develop the next generation of medical imaging software.The merger will allow Cemax to jump immediately onto IBM platformsand tap into that computer vendor's leading position in

Cemax purchased Virtual Imaging last month and gained a leg upin a race to develop the next generation of medical imaging software.The merger will allow Cemax to jump immediately onto IBM platformsand tap into that computer vendor's leading position in hospitalinformation systems. It will accelerate efforts to provide medicalimage processing and display software that is both platform-independentand easier to customize for OEMs.

The Fremont, CA, image processing software developer has riddento profitability on the back of Sun Microsystems, the largestsupplier of Unix-based workstations to the medical imaging industry.As the success of Microsoft demonstrated the power of softwarein the general computing world, the decision by Cemax three yearsago to dump its own hardware products and focus on medical imageprocessing software proved key to strong sales and profitability(SCAN 8/15/90).

Prior to the acquisition, Virtual Imaging was preparing tofollow the path Cemax took, away from proprietary hardware tosoftware supply, with a focus on IBM systems. Cemax had been developingits own IBM-compatible software. Virtual, however, was ready toinitiate sales of software designed for IBM systems. The imagedisplay vendor had shown a system running on IBM's powerful RS/6000unit workstation at the 1992 Radiological Society of North Americameeting in Chicago (SCAN 12/16/92).

"Cemax is a strong Sun house. They were a strong IBM house,"said Terry Ross, Cemax president and CEO. "So we are nowa Sun partner and an IBM partner. Sun is dominant in medical imaging.But as radiology image management and networking unfolds, thesenetworks have to talk to the hospital or radiology informationsystems. IBM is dominant in these other areas. It is easier tohook into the hospital information system with an imaging systemthat runs on IBM hardware."

Many other pieces fit together well in the merger of thesetwo medical imaging vendors. Both had a Unix, open-systems focus.Virtual Imaging concentrated on image display technology, whileCemax was primarily a developer of three-dimensional and otherimage processing software. Both firms were developing X-motifsoftware, but Virtual had a significant time lead in its program.

Object-oriented X-motif software is an advanced type of modularprogramming that is more easily modified and quicker than existingtechnology. Virtual Imaging had also been working to tailor anexternally sourced, object-oriented database system to run withits image workstations. Cemax will continue that program, Rosssaid.

X-motif software will run on any Unix-based platform. Cemaxwill immediately ship software for both Sun and IBM workstationsand plans to offer medical programs suitable for any Unix systemin six months, he told SCAN.

Although maintaining a proprietary workstation platform longerthan Cemax, Virtual Imaging dropped out of end-user sales fouryears ago (SCAN 3/16/88) and built a profitable OEM business,Ross said. Much of the growth in Cemax's revenue has come froman OEM business it began to build two years ago (SCAN 10/09/91).

Cemax now has a total of 15 medical OEMs, including many ofthe largest imaging vendors, such as Toshiba, Du Pont and Fuji.Cemax will continue to ship the proprietary Virtual Imaging displaystations to OEM accounts taken over, Ross said.

Privately held Cemax doubled its revenues last year and inthe second half of 1991 following development of the OEM business.

"That growth all came from the OEM business," Rosssaid.

With the Virtual Imaging business on board, the company plansto double its size again this year and will likely go public withinthe next two years, he said.

Cemax was positioning itself prior to the acquisition as abroader supplier of picture archiving and communications systemstechnology. The vendor had shown a 1-terabyte optical disk archivesystem, purchased on an OEM basis from another company, at the1992 RSNA show. Virtual's technology will move Cemax further inthis development of a broader PACS product line.

Virtual's object-oriented image and database programming willprovide Cemax with added power and flexibility to handle growingPACS data requirements, Ross said.

"When we went to Unix and Sun, that was not a common thing(for a medical software company) to do. I would predict now thateverybody has to go to object-oriented technology in order tohandle the massive amount of data connectivity and changes indemand," he said.

As high-resolution digital chest images and data-intensiveultrasound images are combined with other imaging modalities inPACS, there will be a growing need to provide workstations withgreatly different capabilities throughout hospitals, he said.

Object-oriented software will allow workstation suppliers tomodify their equipment in hours or days instead of months.

"When you are dealing with objects (in software), youno longer have to go down to line-by-line code. Everything istruly modular. Every little thing is an object. You can mix andmatch them almost instantly," Ross said.

Cemax plans to enter into partnerships as it develops its PACSbusinesses. Seeing itself as a midsized supplier similar to VortechData, the firm seeks strategic partnerships with both lower endteleradiology firms and providers of comprehensive PAC systems,he said.

All Virtual Imaging personnel have been transferred over toCemax, Ross said, and the firm still expects to hire more peopleas its business grows. Virtual Imaging president Gil Petersonhas been named executive vice president and COO of Cemax. Withboth leases running out in Fremont and Virtual's nearby Sunnyvaleheadquarters this summer, Cemax expects to move to a single, largerfacility in the San Francisco Bay area, Ross said.