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Broadband bonding vendor offers SMBs affordable appliance

Broadband bounding vendor Mushroom Networks is offering SMBs affordable ways to get high-speed Internet connections. Mushroom Networks can bond T1 lines, DSL lines and cable lines to aggregate their collective speeds into one high-speed connection. Service providers offer business-class bonding services, but the bonded connections usually have to be homogenous and require careful coordination between the carrier and the business. Mushroom's appliances can bond multiple types of connections from multiple providers and require no coordination with the service provider.

Mushroom Networks is sprouting more broadband bonding products to offer small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) affordable ways to get high-speed Internet connections.

Mushroom Networks can bond T1 lines, DSL lines and cable lines to aggregate their collective speeds into one high-speed connection. Service providers offer business-class bonding services, but the bonded connections usually have to be homogenous and require careful coordination between the carrier and the business. Mushroom's appliances can bond multiple types of connections from multiple providers and require no coordination with the service provider.

The company's flagship Truffle appliance, which can bond as many as six broadband lines to produce speeds up to 65 Mbps, retails for $2,995. Announced last week, Porcini, which sells for $1,595, can bond four lines together to produce up to 35 Mbps.

Mushroom's appliances were developed in part to help SMBs which have found that running Voice over IP (VoIP) over a T1 line leaves very little bandwidth for Web browsing and other traffic.

"At my previous company, we had a T1 line which was 1.5 megabits [per second]," said Mushroom's CEO Cahit Akin. "Half of it was provisioned for the voice system. That left 768 kilobits per second for the whole office. At my home, I was getting almost 10 times faster DSL speeds than I was getting for my office. That was really a pain point."

Frank Bernhard, managing principal at Omni Consulting Group, said that many SMBs are transitioning to VoIP and dumping their old PSTN lines in the process. "The advantages are numerous, but the problem is [that] there is a bandwidth economics issue," he said. "What [Mushroom Networks] is trying to do is solve that issue with the Porcini and Truffle solutions."

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Mushroom Networks' Truffle and Porcini appliances sit inside the firewall and load-balance IP traffic over multiple broadband connections by breaking down data into several pieces. Those pieces are distributed over the multiple broadband connections and then reassembled before being delivered to their destination.

"If you consider a file download, that download request will come through a client in the office to our device, and our device will capture that request and process it," Akin said. "And then it begins to intelligently spread the file request over the individual lines and manage the size of those requests dynamically on an ongoing basis."

Akin said the process is invisible to the user, who only perceives a single high-speed connection rather than several slower connections.

SMBs can also build network redundancy into their bonded broadband lines with Porcini by mixing lines from different service providers. If one provider crashes, the appliance fails over to the remaining active connections. This redundancy achieves reliability comparable with T1 lines, for which many companies pay a premium.

"T1 lines are very expensive, but the expense comes because of the reliability of the line," Akin said. "It's only 1.5 megabits. The cost component is always going to be there for T1. T1 is necessary for business because they usually put their PBX voice system on it. And there are actually some companies keeping T1 only because of their phone system, and that makes for some low Internet speeds."

Andrew C. Bradley, general manager and owner of NetCentra Inc., an Avaya PBX reseller and voice and data cabling dealer, said he deployed Mushroom's Truffle appliance into his company to handle Internet traffic. He's held onto the company's old T1 line to handle other connectivity needs, such as voice and VPN.

"We have the T1 for dedicated appliances like our FTP server, and we use it for the VPN. If one of us VPNs into the office, we're going through the T1. All Web-surfing traffic is shifted to the DSL line through the Mushroom appliance."

Bradley said his company considered bonding two T1 lines to get more bandwidth, but he was looking at a monthly bill of $1,400. With Mushroom's appliance, he could bond three business-class DSL lines to get some redundancy and far more bandwidth and pay only about $140 a month. With that kind of savings, the appliance would pay for itself in a matter of months.

The Truffle appliance can speed up bandwidth hogs like Microsoft updates, Bradley said, but it cannot yet distribute SSL-secured traffic across bonded lines. "If we do an Avaya [software] update, that requires a secure connection, so we're load-balanced to one of those DSL connections, and we don't get the benefits of multiple DSLs in that case."

Bradley's company plans to begin reselling the Mushroom appliance to its Avaya customers.

The Porcini appliance includes some new features not previously available in the Truffle product, such as a built-in VoIP quality manager with a simple user interface. It also has an internal router and stateful firewall that can be enabled by the customer if needed.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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