The mighty LongPen

Eric Lo, the founder and president of GenX Solutions of Toronto, never thought he would be the conduit for literary fans and the authors themselves.

But through a technology partnership with LongPen, Cisco and the Venture Tech Network, Lo managed to remotely connect book fans with popular authors such as Margaret Atwood, Dean Koontz and even Conrad Black.

The business opportunity came to GenX from famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood and her Toronto company called Unotchit (pronounced You No Touch It). Atwood wanted to connect with her fans around the world, but was hampered by travel costs and security issues. She was looking for a remote signing solution. Atwood discovered the LongPen technology at the London International Book Fair in 2006. The technology held great promise but fell short of realizing its full potential because of Internet and other technical complications.

“They came to us in the summer of 2006. They just had a failure at its debut. The solution could not get a clear Internet connection,” Lo said.

From there Lo and his team at GenX wanted to redesign the connectivity of the product. Lo turned to Cisco Systems for networking hardware and Ingram Micro’s services network to deploy LongPen globally, but with on-site management and control.

“We are talking about an around the world event and you have two fixed end points. This is a dynamic connection for an on the fly event,” Lo said.

With the help of GenX vice- president of sales Martin Warren, the Unotchit/Cisco soluion took two months to complete and was ready for the Word on the Street festival in Toronto. Atwood was in Edinborough, Scotland but managed to sign her new book for fans at the event.

“The first event was a challenge. It is in the middle of Queen’s Park (Ontario’s government building and grounds) with no power and we got an Internet connection out of Victoria College. We rented power generators for the LongPen robotic arm. And, it was a rainy day,” Lo said.

The LongPen is a kiosk solution with broadcast points deployed by Cisco 871 routers. These routers are used to form a dynamic multipoint VPN, which controls last mile connectivity between the endpoints within a certain city. A Cisco 1811 router was deployed within major collocation facilities around the world connected by 100-Mbit links.

When a LongPen event comes online, it automatically establishes a link into the network for its geographical area. Utilizing the 100-Mbit links between the centres enables the service provider to handle the long-haul connection.

In addition, for those locations where a full DM-VPN is not possible, often due to being behind corporate firewalls, GenX used a Cisco SSL-VPN system in order to form a VPN tunnel from behind the corporate firewall to the regional co-location router. This then injects the VPN traffic into the global DM-VPN network, Lo said.

With this networking infrastructure, GenX was able to connect to the global network from any location. As the co-location facility routers are all connected via a DM-VPN, there is a lot of built-in fault tolerance.

Lo said, if a complete co-location facility goes offline, the DM-VPN network is able to route traffic around the failed site. In addition, the LongPen endpoints within the failed geographic area simply utilize the DM-VPN network to route traffic to the next most convenient co-location facility until the local router comes back online.

Since the Word on the Street festival, GenX has done 40 events around the world for such noted authors as Alice Munro, Koontz, U.S. senator Bobby Kennedy Jr. and former Hollinger magnate Black.

Black because of his legal troubles in the U.S. had to forfeit his passport and is unable to return to Canada. From his seaside home in Florida, Black signed books for fans at the World’s Biggest Book Store in Toronto.

“We sent technicians to his home in Florida to hook him up so that he could talk to his fans and sign books. GenX’s services are very transparent to Unotchit,” Lo said.

GenX is a small solution provider of 20 people and Lo said that without the help of the VTN members he would not have been able to complete the project.

“I know the VTN is behind me and members from Chicago, New York and Florida provided quality services for us. I can rely on the VTN for quality and quality is important. First of all you are dealing with celebrities and they have a high standard of service whether it is for hotels or IT,” Lo said.

Also by utilizing the VTN members, GenX saved on travel costs. GenX charges for each event and he can see the Unotchit/LongPen solution working for banks, correction facilities, and hospitals.

“It is for anything were you need to sign documents. Inmates can sign without leaving the facility and sick kids can interact with there favourite celebrities without leaving the hospital,” Lo said.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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