Nov 10 2008

IP Mobility

Lee Copeland
Photo: Orlando Copeland

For many businesses, switching from a traditional, analog PBX phone system to a Voice over Internet Protocol system offers a way to more effectively manage a formerly standalone system through centralized, server-based IT resources. But companies that have taken the steps to converge and IP-ize (so to speak) their networks are seeing something more. They’ve found that they’ve achieved a unified communications infrastructure, one that lets staff stay connected wherever the employee happens to be that day — or that minute.

Take Chicago-based fresh produce supplier Anthony Marano. Staffers don’t spend their entire day at their desks. Sometimes they’re in the office, but often they’re eyeballing produce in the company’s 400,000-square-foot warehouse or visiting customers. But that shouldn’t mean that they’ll miss a customer call or order. The company’s IP-based system connects to employee cell phones over a Wi-Fi LAN or via the company’s VPN to eliminate phone tag. So whether an employee is roaming the warehouse, on the road or actually at his desk, one phone number follows him everywhere.

“There is a lot of business value in having happier, less frustrated customers,” says Chris Nowak, CTO at Anthony Marano. “And there is a lot of value in providing employees with a single device that they can use exactly the same way wherever they are.”

For more on their comprehensive communication overhaul, turn to “VoIP Goes Mobile.".

In “I’ll Be Seeing You,” BizTech takes a look at how two companies use VoIP to support videoconferencing. At California-based Ellison Technologies, a videoconferencing system helps the machine tool distributor cut travel costs without losing human contact with suppliers and customers. At St. Louis law firm Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, videoconferencing over VoIP lets attorneys in offices about 20 miles apart conduct face-to-face meetings without jumping in their cars to travel to the other office.

“To the moon, Alice, to the moon!”

Finally, do read our feature on Pharmasset. This biotech startup is developing a new series of drugs to treat HIV and the Hepatitis B and C viruses. The Hepatitis B drug the company is developing has the potential to become one of the more potent therapies to combat the virus.

To run molecular simulations aimed at finding new chemical compounds that stop viruses from replicating in the human body, Pharmasset turned to high-powered blade servers. “We take samples of 250,000 molecules and screen them against biological targets, and that screening process will result in quite a large amount of data — greater than 1 million data points,” says Michael Sofia, Pharmasset’s vice president of chemistry.

The blade servers and modeling software help the company find the right combination of compounds to inhibit viruses from replication, otherwise known as computational chemistry. Without the blades, they’d have to do all the testing by hand in labs. The small blade form factor, and the fact that they utilize quad-core, quad-processor systems, helped Pharmasset fit the blade servers into a small server room in Pharmasset’s Princeton, N.J., office, without having to invest in more data center space.

“It’s the same types of things you can do in a lab with chemists trying out different combinations of molecules. But they are simulating it instead,” says Jim Anuth, Pharmasset’s IT director. “You can go out and build a plane and mock something up in a hangar, or you can sit in front of a computer and try different things and see how it flies virtually.”

Don’t think that a server makes that much difference to a startup’s success? Anuth and his team named their four blades Ralph, Alice, Ed and Trixie — the four characters in the 1950s TV sitcom The Honeymooners. Ralph, the server, takes the jobs and distributes the work to the other three servers. “They are rock-solid steady machines,” Anuth says. For more, turn to “The DNA of Computing.”

Lee Copeland
Editor in Chief