Sopris Surfers looms ever-larger on valley’s Internet landscape
With a center in Glenwood Springs, Sopris Surfers owner Paul Huttenhower sees clear superhighways ahead for his burgeoning Internet business.
The company is in the midst of moving its equipment from Carbondale into a new, state-of-the-art network operations center, or NOC, at the Colorado Plaza at 13th and Colorado. It opened in March.
Huttenhower’s plans call for the administrative offices to remain on Main Street in the heart of Carbondale, but all hardware will be relocated to the new office.
With room to grow and a prime hub, Huttenhower and company directors Michael Mayer and Dale Ahrens are excited about the future.
“We’re getting to be a bigger player in the Internet world than we used to be,” Huttenhower said as he showed off the roomful of high-tech gadgets that allow his customers to surf the Web.
The Glenwood location is especially suitable because it sits at a main state connection point near Interstate 70, as well as being close to the local Qwest office.
“We’re now the main connection point for the Roaring Fork Valley,” Huttenhower said.
Fiber optics poke through the ceiling in the caged computer room above a rack of modems. That fiber will make the ride through cyberspace much faster.
That fiber is the largest Internet pipe in the valley, Huttenhower said. It’s known as an OC-12 and it has the capacity of moving 620 megabits per second.
“This is four times bigger than what the city has,” Huttenhower said.
“(Qwest) looked at what business we’ve done in the last five years and they said we should have an OC-12,” Huttenhower said. “We pay Qwest for the OC-12 and we are contracting with another company, Internap, to get onto the Internet,” he said.
Sopris will be with Internap within a matter of weeks.
“It gives us extremely fast and even speed,” Mayer said of the deal with Internap.
“We’re going to have excellent connectivity,” Huttenhower added.
There are 350 modems in the NOC, which, surprisingly, is enough for 3,500 customers. In all, including the equipment left in the Carbondale office, the company has only 500 modems.
“We’ve been able to dispense the load enough from Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood,” Huttenhower said.
“The rule of thumb is a 10-to-one modem-to-customer ratio,” Huttenhower said.
But while Sopris Surfer will continue to offer dial-up Internet access and the faster digital subscriber lines, or DSL, more technology is coming down the pike.
“If we were just going to be a dial-up company, we wouldn’t have done this. We want to break into the broadband world,” he said. “We’re going to continue to offer DSL.”
The NOC, while not large, has lots of fail-safe features that make it secure.
For memory concerns, everything is backed up.
For power concerns, there is a battery backup that, in the event of a blackout, has enough power to run the whole system for about five hours. It’s known as an uninterrupted power source.
“All the critical gear gets hooked up on the battery backup,” Mayer said.
And soon there will be a generator backing up the battery grid in case of longer power outages.
Even the air conditioner is backed up.
“Everything is redundant,” Mayer said.
“In this facility, we can grow to four or five times the size we are now,” Huttenhower said. “It should last five to 10 years.
“When we get this thing fired up, there’s nothing stopping us from going national.”
The advantage to a national dial-up service, he said, is that customers can use Sopris Surfers anywhere they travel and they can keep using the service if they move out of the area.
Also, people could keep Sopris Surfers if they move away from the area.
“It’s all about customer service,” Huttenhower said.
Another service the company has begun to offer is co-locating websites in the building. Its biggest customer in that realm is Linens ‘n Things.
“It’s a pretty involved website,” Huttenhower said. “It’s very technical.”
The site is co-located in the company’s Glenwood Springs office, as is the website for local company Apex Security.
“Anybody can make a contract to co-locate with Sopris Surfers,” Huttenhower said.
While long-term plans for Sopris Surfers are cloudy, in the short-term, it isstaying busy.
“Right now we’re considering what our next broadband move is. What our concept is, is to select an area that’s underserved. But that doesn’t mean we’ll exclude Glenwood Springs or Rifle or anywhere else,” Huttenhower said. “There may be places where we can have DSL and broadband.”
One possibility is for the company to turn more of its attention toward high-speed wireless systems.
“We have wireless in the business park in Basalt and in Aspen Glen. And we’re getting ready to light up Basalt,” Huttenhower said.
If Sopris Surfers gets heavily into wireless Internet, Huttenhower said, it loses money in the up-front costs of equipment and labor, but by signing longer contracts – 24 months and longer – it will make its money toward the end of the term.
“The beautiful thing about wireless is that to get customers to our backbone, it’s a lot less expensive,” Huttenhower said.
To contact Sopris Surfers about getting online to “Support Locally, Surf Globally,” call the company at 963-7873, or visit its website at http://www.sopris.net.
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.