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Next generation WLAN design

WLAN design applies to the detailed design that shows how the components are to be configured and what functionality they provide. The more detailed they get the better the integration to your overall network.

Network design work can be a wonderful thing, unless you are not given the proper framework with which to develop a design.

What is a WLAN design? Is it a Visio drawing showing vendor components connected with lines? Is it a listing of vendor capabilities mapped to customer requirements in an RFP response? Is it a bill of materials that somehow magically correlate to a solution?

It can be any of the above depending on who you are talking to. I have seen designs presented this way many times and it never ceases to amaze me. As a consultant, when I discuss designs, I mean the nitty-gritty, detailed design that shows how the components are to be configured and what functionality they provide.

The point is that designs require detailed information in order to integrate the solution into your environment. This information is usually based on how the current design is built and must incorporate aspects of that deployed design. The same is certainly true for WLANs. This is most prevalent in the integration into the current wired LAN. The WLAN must interconnect to the wired LAN so that is a good place to start.

So now that you are in charge of coming up with the WLAN design, what are the areas you will want to focus on? WLAN designs incorporate a tremendous breadth of reach into the infrastructure. At a minimum, WLAN solutions touch the following areas that will require attention:

  • Front-end design work (clients)
  • Back-end design work (Authentication/Certificate Servers – Windows Domain)
  • Security design
  • Operations design (what skills, tools and processes are needed)
  • Wired LAN design (how to interconnect WLAN to wired LAN resources and each other)

The fact that WLAN clients require special adaptors (WLAN cards, chips, radio's etc) and that the server environment is involved in client access, means that you literally have to design and configure elements that touch all aspects of the environment. This is not easy to do for several reasons, including the fact that this may all be brand new to you and you are short staffed.

There is plenty of documentation to walk you through the education process, but to get the design right, try to make sure that all aspects are covered before beginning integration. Use the following checklist to make sure that the design has covered the major areas necessary to enable the solution:

  1. Layer 2 VLAN design and switch configuration
  2. Layer 3 router design and router configuration
  3. Radius or authentication server design and configuration
  4. Active Directory design and configuration (depends on above)
  5. Access Point design and configuration
  6. Management Platform design and configuration
  7. Client configuration

All of these have to be touched either to verify that they are OK, or to configure the right way to provide the access, security and functionality required. The design needs to be done in a manner that provides input and information necessary to deploy successfully.

Use this approach to set expectations on what needs to be accomplished in order to design a successful WLAN solution in your environment.

About the author:
Robbie Harrell (CCIE#3873) is the National Practice Lead for Advanced Infrastructure Solutions for SBC Communications. He has over 10 years of experience providing strategic, business, and technical consulting services to clients. Robbie resides in Atlanta, and is a graduate of Clemson University. His background includes positions as a Principal Architect at International Network Services, Lucent, Frontway and Callisma.


This was last published in September 2005

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