Christchurch hotel caters to IT needy

Business travellers in Christchurch seeking some IT support can find it at a hotel created by a former teacher at Bill Gates' old school in Seattle.

Tim Nicholls claims a first for his 38-room Hotel Off The Square, which has fast internet access in each room plus inhouse IT help.

Seth Wagoner, who runs consultancy Apposite, provides support from his office, the hotel’s Room 33. Wagoner says there was little cost involved in putting 100MB ethernet cabling, which is also used for phone services, throughout the new hotel.

The hotel uses Telecom’s secure business internet service, providing internet connections at the equivalent of JetStart speeds to each room, for NZ$15 a night. Guests wanting faster access can get it at the full rate of 8MB down and 1MB up.

The hotel also offers comparatively sophisticated phone services — at a price — including portable phones (NZ$10 a day) and direct dial lines (a one-off NZ$20 setup fee). IT consulting services are charged at NZ$19 to $29 for each 15 minutes, depending on the hour.

Wagoner, whose former Web Foundry company also founded art e-commerce website, describes Off The Square as a “Microsoft-Linux hybrid”.

The communications hub is a Mitel server running on Linux; desktops are custom-built Ultra models put together from laptop parts, running on Windows XP.

The PCs connect to the outside world through a Linux-based firewall.

“It would have been nice to run the whole thing on Linux, but I felt Microsoft still has the edge when it comes to usability for non-computer people,” Wagoner says.

Nicholls says the IT innovations, which will be extended with a laptop-hiring service, are intended to give his multi-million dollar hotel a marketing edge. However, take-up of the service has been slower than expected.

The entrepreneur and teacher taught history and geography at Lakeside School in Seattle in the 1980s. Its alumni include Gates and Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.

“They are big fundraisers at the school, often making visits, but I never actually met them.” He counts a couple of other software billionaires he won’t identify as acquaintances.

Nicholls is part of the Melview development consortium, which plans to redevelop the Britomart site in Auckland. If the consortium is successful, Nicholls says a similar hotel is planned for the site.

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