March 1, 2004
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Biomedical Firm Improves Reliability with Wireless Backup Link

Most enterprises think of wireless as a technology to connect mobile workers, but it can also be used to replace fixed-line connections. That's the realization that Ardais came to recently. The Lexington, Mass., clinical genomics company analyzes donated human tissue and then arranges its delivery to drug companies and others for cancer research. The company uses the Internet to make the tissue analysis files available to researchers, and it needs to have its systems always available so clients get the background data whenever they need it. It also carries email traffic.

But Ardais was having trouble keeping its connections available over its T1 line, once due to a cable cut in South Boston that took nine hours to repair and more often due to network outages, recalls Dan Kern, manager of IT infrastructure at Ardais. He also noted the last-mile connections had frequent data "hiccoughs" that interrupted smooth data transfer. So, at the suggestion of a local integrator, Kern decided to use a dedicated wireless link rather than a second T1 to maintain the company's connection to the outside world. The company did add a T1 line for phone traffic, putting all its data traffic (file transfer, email, instant messaging, Web hosting, and virtual private network) on the original T1 and the new FatPipe wireless link. When not used as a T1 backup, the wireless link handles Ardais's Citrix-based remote access and its Web-based email access. The FatPipe link provides 500Kbps of data throughput with 1.5Mbps burst transmission before there's any billing for additional bandwidth; it costs about a third the price of leasing a dedicated T1, Kern says.

Using Warp hardware from FatPipe, which connects the wireless and wireline links to the internal network and handles routing, Ardais was able to provide a dedicated backup between its Lexington office and its Internet service provider's Waltham office at about a third of the cost of a landline Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) connection, which Ardais had also considered. Deployed about 18 months ago the process took about a day the wireless connection "has never hiccoughed, even in bad weather such as a snowstorm," Kern notes. "Wireless is just as reliable." One fact that worked to Ardais's advantage is that the company's office is high enough to get a clear line-of-sight connection to the Waltham ISP, and the building management had no objection to the installation of the wireless link's antenna. And there have been no issues of security.

Another advantage was that the wireless link fit into Ardais's existing LAN infrastructure. All the company had to do was experiment with the address translator for proper routing, but not retool its external interfaces or management systems. Plus, the FatPipe wireless link does not require a dedicated network administrator, as a BGP link does, saving Ardais additional cost. "Anyone who has any experience with networks can get it configured," Kern says.

From our editors

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A VC's Take on Wireless Directions

William Quigley, a managing director at Clearstone Venture Partners in Menlo Park, Calif., has been investing venture capital dollars in technology and telecommunications companies for years. His attention is now focused on the telecomm and mobile sector, including wireless. VCs often have early indications of what technologies have strong enterprise potential, so IT Wireless talked recently with Quigley to get his take on promising areas for new wireless developments.

"The application piece is the piece I focus on the most," Quigley says. "A network is ultimately driven by the applications. 802.11 is sort of like an operating system." That's evident in where 802.11 has gotten traction, he notes, such as warehousing and logistics, where 802.11 and similar technologies enable the key information flow that allows real-time tracking, more efficient movement, and greater accuracy.

Beyond the established implementations of wireless, "the biggest application that I see has been voice. Beyond that, I haven't seen anything." Clearstone has invested in one firm that enables voice communications over 802.11 network using time-division multiplexing to improve sound quality. He notes that a few years ago, 802.11-based phones cost about $1,000 apiece, "but now all the major consumer vendors are saying they'll deliver them for $100 to $200." That should spur both further adoption and development of such phones, which can save companies significant costs for their in-building calling, both in traditional white-collar uses and in more field-oriented settings such as warehouses and hospitals, Quigley says. "And if you couple this with a location-based chip in the access point, that really gets interesting," he adds.

Quigley notes that an application-centric focus does have a down side, at least for the ROI-oriented world that a VC inhabits. "Although [a given application's benefit] is intuitively positive, it's harder to show the ROI," which slows the uptake by enterprises for applications that promise the hard-to-calculate benefits of improved customer service, which in turn makes it harder for investors and companies to invest in and deliver new types of applications.

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