The California State Fire Association (CSFA) recently addressed a nagging problem. The association’s computer network had plenty of throughput, but lacked reliability and available bandwidth. Specifically, there was a lack of Internet link redundancy, and the association needed an affordable network connection larger than 1.5 Mb/s, said Monty Gearhart, director of CSFA information systems.

More than 24,000 California firefighters access the association’s Web site to get critical benefit information, such as on long-term disabilities. The site also is used as a central repository to record firefighters’ exposure to biological pathogens and toxins at an incident, Gearhart said.

“There are times firefighters can add incident reporting data via a PDA while coming back from a scene, when it’s fresh in their mind or documenting biological pathogen exposure that can be entered right away,” Gearhart said. “If you’re network is down, you can’t do that. So those redundancies are important.”

Gearhart said the association needed reliable Internet connectivity for their Sacramento, Calif., and North Carolina offices specifically. Each office had a DSL link to the Internet. However, they were unable to get the full use of the DSL bandwidth. For example, its Sacramento office was only getting 2 Mb/s x 384 Kb/s from a link capable of providing 7Mb/s x 2Mb/s.

“In the Sacramento office there are few large bandwidth providers that don’t cost an arm and a leg,” Gearhart said. “DSL was reasonable but not quite what we needed in order to push out new applications to our membership. So we look into some other solutions.”

To address the problem, the CSFA deployed Ecessa’sPowerLink, which let them to get the full bandwidth potential from both DSL links. They were able to purchase the second DSL link for less than the first DSL link while getting three times the bandwidth yield, Gearhart said. They also gained link redundancy, which provided them with greater Internet uptime.

“There are so many payoffs, like not having to pay for office space for remote employees,” he said.

John Eddington, Ecessa’s technical services manager, said PowerLink provides inbound and outbound load balancing and failover for multiple WAN connections for access to data. It is an appliance that sits on the network and can connect multiple WANs from multiple ISPs and different types of media, such as T1, fiber, DSL lines or satellite.

Eddington said the device tests the status of each line to see if they are up or down. When a line is down, it will send the traffic over the other functional lines. Additionally, it continually monitors each link and directs traffic to the best performing link at any given time.

“It also will be intelligently load balancing the traffic based on the lines, and it will measure how much bandwidth is being used on each line and be able to make use of bandwidth by having multiple WAN connections at a particular site,” he said.

Gearhart said PowerLink now manages Internet traffic going into and out from the CSFA facilities over their two DSL connections for both facilities. During an Internet outage, the IT department no longer scrambles to find and fix the problem, he said.

“With PowerLink, when a DSL failure occurs, we only know about it because PowerLink sends a notification,” Gearhart said. “We don't have to do anything about it, as PowerLink has already addressed the problem.”

PowerLink also enabled the CSFA to locally control its own domain name system (DNS). The advantage of this capability is if one DSL link has an outage, the PowerLink, working as their local DNS authority, directs inbound users to the other DSL link and a cloned Web server on the fly using an ultra-short Time-to-Live (TTL). Before the deployment, the association would have a four-hour TTL. It now is under 30 seconds, Gearhart said.

“This is the kind of technology I’ve been waiting to become affordable because it allows you to bind up to 15 lower-bandwidth devices, aggregate them together and have massive redundancy and bandwidth without having to tear up a facility, put in brand new trunking, change routers and equipment … this kind of unit you can drop in place in your already existing network and slap more modems on it and off you go,” he said.