Hamilton IT scene: Rural broadband and network monitoring

Rural Link and Endace sprang from research projects at Waikato University

Waikato University could be described at the birthplace of the internet in New Zealand. Or as Rural Link chief technology officer Murray Pearson puts it: “The internet looks very different now, rather than centred around G Block at the university, it’s now centred largely around places like the Sky Tower.”

Pearson (pictured above) was a lecturer at the unversity, until one of his pet projects on connecting rural communities outgrew its academic foundations and the pressures of commercialisation saw it move off campus and become Rural Link.

The ISP is a joint venture between Waikato Link and Rezare Systems Limited, a company that was interested in developing applications for the rural sector.

Rural Link has built around 30 towers in small communities that serve upwards of 20 users. The download speeds of 1Mbps have been fast enough for some to run a VoIP service, and Pearson says the ISP will be upgrading the service to 5Mbps.

Rural Link had planned to work with WEL Networks as part of the New Zealand Fibre Group’s bid for the Rural Broadband Initiative, but the rollout went to Telecom and Vodafone. However, despite RBI, Pearson says there is an opportunity to continue building in rural areas, maybe using the open access fibre being deployed by Chorus under the RBI contract, if the business case stacks up.(Vodafone announced yesterday that 20,000 rural households and businesses in parts of Canterbury, Rodney and Waikato districts will be "the first in New Zealand to be able to access high speed wireless broadband delivered by Vodafone under the RBI").

Rural Link has also developed LightWire, which provides all students at Waikato University with free internet access subject to a data cap of 1GB a month. If they require more they have to pay.

Students living the halls of residence can use the service and he is working with Velocity (which has since been bought by WEL Networks) to provide wi-fi access in Hamilton city.

Pearson says one of Rural Link’s strengths is that it develops its own software but it can be a fine line between the economics of creating a unique solutoin versus buying off the shelf.

“We’ve invested a lot of effort in development that doesn’t give us a lot of return. Now we know that certain customisations give you a lot of benefit and others are just black holes – interesting from an academic point of view, but...”

Endace goes hard

While Pearson was grappling with connectivity to rural communities, Waikato University professor Ian Graham was investigating how to keep track of every piece of information being delivered over the fastest fibre connections available on the planet.

His research project on network and monitoring eventually became the company Endace, which according to the TIN100 report in 2011, achieved revenue of $52 million. It employs 147 staff and is listed on the AIM stock exchange in London.

When Computerworld popped in to see Endace in Hamilton we were shown the latest EndaceExtreme system which is based on Graham’s DAG (Digital Acquistion and Generator) technology. The system is able to capture and record packets of information on fibre networks delivering speeds of 100Gbps. It was being shipped off for beta to existing customers the following week and the plan is to go to market with the upgraded product next year.

At the Hamilton office the engineers had dubbed the upgraded system Medusa, a reference to its 13 ports, and because it is the successor to the five-port system called Hydra which could capture and measure every packet on a 40Gbps connection.

Computerworld was told that Medusa is not the name going to market; branding is domain of vice president for marketing Tim Nichols.

The day before visiting Endace in Hamilton, Nichols took a group of technology journalists out to lunch in Auckland to talk about the company’s move to Silicon Valley. Endace – which has offices in Hamilton, Auckland, Australia, London and several cities in the US – is moving its corporate marketing function to the IT hub of the world.

Nichols will be joining newly appointed senior vice president, product and marketing Spencer Greene (formerly vice president of product management at Juniper Networks) at the Silicon Valley office. He says Endace is focused on exporting to tier one telcos, governments and Fortune 500 companies.

Financial traders, for example, use Endace technology to capture information about every trade made throughout the day in order to optimise algorithims for trading the next day.

He told the group: “We own the high frequency trading community.”

And with the ability to capture and timestamp every single packet of information on a fast fibre connection that has speeds of up to 100Gbps – they possibly do.

* This is the fourth and final article in a series about the Hamilton IT scene.

See also Ultra fast starts now, Gallagher cultivates culture of innovation, and Virtual Molly faces real-world test.

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