SDL plays ace with GPRS card

9 Sep 2003

Pat Whelan (pictured) is a busy man. As IT manager for SDL International, a leading globalisation and localisation company, it is his job to ensure that company servers are running smoothly and that clients can upload their projects securely and reliably. SDL’s operations in Ireland are spread over two locations: Bray in Co Wicklow and a technical centre in Sandyford, Co Dublin, and Whelan has staff in both locations, although he is based mostly in Bray.

However, Whelan has an ace up his sleeve. He is one of only two people in the company to use Vodafone Mobile Connect Card that connects his laptop to Vodafone’s always-on GPRS network.

“We have been using the cards since the launch,” he explains. “Before that we used HSCSD (high speed circuit switched data) or Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones. A major advantage of the card is that you are online all the time. You don’t have to dial up every few minutes to see if you have email.”

But convenient access to email is not the card’s main advantage. Using a client application, Whelan’s laptop is permanently connected to the company’s virtual private network (VPN) no matter where he is. “It’s as if I never left the office,” says Whelan, whose work often takes him to the UK. “A lot of the decisions we make here have to be made instantly. Even in the UK, I’m still online or if I have to visit a site in Europe I can still be contacted.”

But having access to email is only part of the story. Problems with the servers or network very often require his direct intervention. “All of our systems are proactively monitored,” he explains. “If a problem occurs, an SMS [short messaging service] message and email are sent so that I know instantly. I can then log on to the GPRS network, use the VPN client to access the corporate VPN and then, if possible deal, with the problem remotely. I don’t have to come into the office, which is nice because I live in Clane, Co Kildare.”

Even in non-emergency situations, such as a system update or security patch becoming available, Whelan is able to manage the network remotely at any time of the day or night.

Having this facility has made his life a whole lot easier. “Before we got the cards, if there was a problem and I wasn’t on site, my staff had to find some way of contacting me. Obviously, the people who work for me are skilled but they can’t handle everything. Once they contacted me, I would then have to talk them through the process of fixing the problem or I would have to find a secure connection to handle the problem remotely, and ‘secure’ is the operative word here. If I was driving home at night, for instance, this would mean either turning around and heading back to the office or waiting until I got home and could access the system from my landline there,” Whelan explains.

All of these factors meant that turnaround time for fixing problems could run to hours during which time clients and staff could be cut off from essential data. “Now I know instantly if there is a problem and I can resolve it in 10-15 minutes,” he says.

Whelan reports that he gets speed of up to 57.6Kbps using the card, comparable to a modem over a regular landline and is quite sufficient for access to the VPN or running applications such as Terminal Server or email. Many GPRS mobile phones limit the speed at which data connections can be made. The card is also economical. “Rental is only €10 per month and we pay €5 per month for the first 5MB of data with additional data costing up to €2 per MB, although if you use more, it goes down on a sliding scale. So, it’s quite cost effective compared to using a mobile phone and a Bluetooth connection. The other advantage is that you don’t tie up your phone,” he insists.

Elsewhere in the organisation the other card is being used by a non-IT employee. “He travels to work by train and is able to get a few hours work done before he gets to the office. The beauty of the GPRS system is that if he is sending an email and the train enters a black spot, the signal remains ‘on hold’ until it can be re-established. There’s no need to redial the connection,” he says.

Whelan is confident that other members of staff will use the system; it is just a matter of identifying who within the company needs it. “It is still in its infancy here but it has huge potential,” he says. “More and more people within SDL will look to use it as they realise it’s there and become more familiar with what it can do and it can only get better.”

By David Stewart

On the road with his laptop and GPRS mobile connection is Pat Whelan, IT manager of SDL International