Unchain your computing power

Develop a wireless network plan

Here's a riddle for you: What's the difference between a desktop PC and a ball and chain?

Answer: You'll never need to upgrade your ball and chain.

Computers empower today's employees to do things that no individual could have accomplished a generation ago, but desktop technology does tend to chain workers to their desks. Small businesses are discovering that providing employees with mobile computing power increases the value and productivity of IT and the employees themselves. According to a 2006 study by the Computing Technology Industry Association, as well as CDW Corporation's 2007 Business Rearview Mirror survey report, small and midsize businesses (SMB) are making employee mobility a priority.

Innovative businesses employ Wi-Fi technology routinely in operations as wide ranging as sales, warehousing and inventory management, manufacturing and intra-office collaboration. Workers can access their network during meetings away from their desks -- viewing data, taking notes, sending e-mails and doing research right on the spot. Implementing a wireless network can help an organization save money, increase productivity and make information easier to utilize. In fact, Gartner analysts Nick Jones and William Clark say organizations have no other option than to plan and deploy an integrated wireless architecture.

Start with the WLAN

But how do you get there? Consider these factors when planning a wireless LAN (WLAN) for your business:

  • The physical environment: A building's structure significantly affects how wireless waves behave. The walls, floors and other obstacles, including people and space, contribute to signal attenuation. Examine the physical characteristics of the building, including the square footage. This will help determine the number of access points needed.
  • The number of users: There is no gain in productivity if the network lacks adequate bandwidth to handle the traffic, and each user should be allotted at least 5.4 megabytes. Although SMBs typically support fewer than 24 access points, network administrators managing multiple access points need to be able to balance the load. Centrally managed wireless controller appliances can balance the load automatically, boosting performance and saving time.
  • Power requirements: The number of access points determines the needed power requirements. Power injectors offer the greatest amount of flexibility as they can be placed anywhere along the line.
  • Security: Avoid using obsolete protocols for wireless security. Wired Equivalent Privacy is outdated and fails to protect WLANs from determined attackers. Better alternatives include Wi-Fi Protected Access and WPA2. For increased protection, IT departments should configure access points to use the strongest available encryption.

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Sven Rasmussen

Network World
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