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Space Race

AMERICAN INTERNET SERVICES (AIS)

CEO: Tim Caulfield.

Revenue: Between $35 million and $50 million. AIS does not disclose exact revenue.

No. of local employees: 70.

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Investors: Seaport Capital, Viridian Investments, DuPont Capital Management. Caulfield also holds a stake.

Headquarters: Kearny Mesa.

Year founded: 1989.

Company description: Enterprise-class data center, cloud computing and managed services company.

Key factors for success: A 23-year track record; SSAE 16-compliant facilities in San Diego, Los Angeles and Phoenix for geographical diversity; best-of-breed infrastructure as a service (IaaS) with private dedicated connectivity.

Imagine your company has to sequence a portion of the 2.85 billion nucleotides in the human genome, a task common to San Diego area biotech companies. Where do you turn to process and store the 1 terabyte of data generated when recording a gene sequence?

San Diego-based American Internet Services thinks they have the answer. According to Tim Caulfield, chief executive of AIS, the company has invested several million dollars to stand up a new cloud computing service they call Business Cloud 1 that it plans to market to local businesses — particularly those that have to sort through massive amounts of data.

AIS’ target market includes a pillar of San Diego’s economy: life science firms.

Beta customers began using AIS’ Business Cloud 1 service in March. AIS executives said its combination of computers and communications gear can give clients the benefit of high-speed computing without the need to buy or maintain their own servers.

“It’s not cheap to get into this business,” said Steve Wallace, AIS’ chief technology officer.

Cloud computing offers computer time as a utility, similar to water and electricity, Caulfield said. “We don’t build power plants in our backyard for power,” he said, arguing that companies should use their skill sets to solve their business problems, and leave IT to someone else.

The business problems in life science are many.

Terabytes and Petabytes

Delve into the world of DNA analysis and one can see just how complicated and data-intensive the process of decoding a genome can be. The human genome contains the aforementioned 2.85 billion nucleotides, or chemical building blocks. Recording a gene sequence on a computer can take up to 1 terabyte — or 1,000,000,000,000 bytes, Wallace said.

Once it is sequenced, the file can be reduced to several gigabytes, or units of 1,000,000,000 bytes, Wallace said.

Using an automobile metaphor, Caulfield said AIS offers big parking lots to store terabytes of data, and fast superhighways to move it between linked data centers.

AIS can provide the security required by federal law for health care data, Caulfield also said, adding that the firm can tell a client where, physically, they have stored the client’s data. Not all providers can do that, he said.

Caulfield maintains that the AIS solution is better for large enterprise customers than service from a nationally known provider Amazon Web Services LLC, part of Internet giant Amazon.com Inc.

Amazon’s solution is for the masses, and because of that, it’s very standardized, Caulfield said. “Like any solution you market toward a large group, you make compromises,” he said.

Amazon, for its part, says it has plenty of businesses happy with its cloud services.

The Seattle online retailer’s clients include consumer products giant Unilever NV and Eagle Genomics Ltd. The latter company is in Cambridge, England, and combines cloud computing with next-generation DNA sequencing. Unilever’s research and development department and Eagle Genomics are jointly working on a science-based research project.

Amazon’s “flexible infrastructure and near-instant deployment of resources made it incredibly easy for Eagle to work with Unilever to speed up the throughput of their genome analysis platform by 20 times,” said Richard Holland, chief business officer for Eagle Genomics.

Holland said the typical data requirement for a project “can be anything from a hundred gigabytes to a terabyte or 10. Pharmaceutical companies can require 300 terabytes or more of storage.”

He added that the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which is south of Cambridge and is one of the world’s main sequencing centers, generates more than a petabyte of new data every year. A petabyte is 10 to the 15th power, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.

Redundant Facilities

Amazon recently touted two other big clients: NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which used the Amazon cloud computing service to share data about the rover Curiosity landing on Mars, in real time, as hundreds of thousands of website visitors looked on.

Caulfield and Wallace assert that a business cannot create complex private networks with Amazon. They also say they can beat Amazon on price.

AIS’ business cloud is backed up by five AIS facilities in San Diego, including one at the San Diego Tech Center on Sorrento Mesa, as well as a redundant data center in Phoenix. AIS has a point of presence in Los Angeles.

Redundant facilities mean that if there is a disaster at a San Diego center, the Phoenix center will likely be running. Phoenix is also a reasonable distance from San Diego if a person needs to make the drive, Wallace said.

Looking ahead to the fall, Caulfield said AIS hopes to roll out a platform that is even more optimized for life sciences.

With the introduction of its business cloud infrastructure, AIS has attracted enthusiastic job hunters, Caulfield said while showing a visitor around his data center. “They say, ‘You guys are on the leading edge,’” Caulfield said.

Such interest among tech-savvy job prospects “is a nice byproduct” to the new service, the CEO said.

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