Architects bolster e-mail uptime with expediter

An architectural firm that lives and dies by e-mail has bought some piece of mind that its messaging system will stay humming even when a line fails.

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E-mail is such an integral part of communication at BAR Architects that without it, the San Francisco architecture and design firm grinds to a halt.

The 80-employee firm works on everything from residential homes to film projects. Most client communication happens over e-mail. Architects send large AutoCAD files to clients regularly.

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But during the last two years, reliable e-mail service has been a problem, said BAR Architect's director of technology, Jackson Ng. "Two years ago when we first got our DSL line, ISPs were folding left and right," Ng said. "We were forced to change ISPs three times and every time we did that we did not receive e-mail for 24 hours."

Modifying all of the mail exchange records which was required to switch to a backup service took one and sometimes two days, a huge gap for a company that is so e-mail-dependent. Ng began looking for a better way. In an e-mail newsletter, he read about Amplify.net's iSurfJanus route expediters and signed up as a beta tester.

If a company's main Internet connection goes down, Amplify.net's route expediter will switch from the main connection to the back up and it will change all of the necessary addresses.

Since installing the product in April, BAR Architects has already had a failure in its DSL service. Ng said the system switched automatically from one DSL line to the back up. It's a situation that in the past would have taken a day or two to fix, and it would have caused significant problems for architects trying to communicate with clients, he said.

In non-emergency situations, both lines remain in use. The route expediter uses the back up connection to regulate the flow of Internet traffic and balance the traffic loads on lines that come in from separate ISPs, according to Didier Kopp, vice president of marketing at Amplify.net.

NG said he believes his company has seen some performance increases since it began testing the route expediter.

Amnplify.net CEO, Pauline Lo Alker said the company's target customer is a small-to-medium-sized company, and remote offices of larger corporations where Internet communications are vital to the business's ability to function. The product costs between $3,500 and $5,500 depending on the options a user chooses.

Liza Henderson, vice president at Telechoice, a Tulsa, Okla. consulting firm, said Amplify.net's product is nothing revolutionary. But Henderson said its combination of features bundled into one product does set it apart. The route expediter can balance loads, handle emergency switching and has VPN capability, unlike other products which generally provide one of these functions.

"Companies are minimizing risk by not putting all of their traffic on one link," Henderson said. "With traffic moving across multiple links, a single failure will not take down an entire network. This gives the enterprise a higher level of availability and reliability."

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