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Wireless in hospitals: One organization's 802.11n wireless LAN

Wireless in hospitals can revolutionize patient care. An 802.11n wireless LAN can also improve patients' experience by granting them a guest network for checking their email and surfing the Web. A New York hospital chain deployed a controller-less 802.11n wireless LAN from Aerohive to modernize its network.

Riverside Health Care Systems, an operator of several hospitals in Westchester County, N.Y., chose a decentralized, controller-less wireless LAN to modernize its network, according to senior network administrator Niall Pariag. The hospital chain also wanted to enable a guest network to provide its patients with unfettered connectivity.

"We made the choice to open up the guest network because it was becoming too much of a hassle for us to give out a wireless key to patients, and we no longer had 24-hour staffing by IT," Pariag said. "If someone wanted to connect to the wireless overnight, they had to wait until morning."

Riverside had a variety of goals for the wireless network beyond the guest network, he said. To satisfy requirements for quality of patient care, the network had to be highly reliable. It needed to enable bedside services such as registration, documentation and drug administration. The network also needed to support an enterprise network for administrative connectivity.

And to prepare for the future, Pariag wanted to design the network to support new applications, particularly a Vocera-based wireless voice communications system and an RFID tagging system for both equipment and patients. The network also needed to be easily manageable because Riverside's IT staff is small and Pariag would be running it mostly on his own.

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He selected 802.11n products from Aerohive Networks primarily for the vendor's controller-less architecture. Aerohive's access points, known as HiveAPs, have on-board software that allows them to cooperate with one another and perform collectively many of the tasks performed by the controllers sold by other wireless LAN vendors. Pariag didn't want to use a controller-based architecture because he felt controllers presented a single point of failure. Even with redundant controllers in place, he anticipated that there would still be downtime during failover.

Riverside's guest wireless LAN network is firewalled from the corporate network. Anyone can connect to it after accepting a terms of use and policy agreement. Patients aren't the only ones using the guest network, however, and this has forced the hospital administration to rethink its usage policies.

"I've noticed a significant amount of use of the guest network by our staff," Pariag said. "I didn't expect everyone to connect with their iPhones to check [personal] email. We're going to create a usage policy for staff. We just want to make sure people don't abuse it. You can't be using it during work time. That takes away from production."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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