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Next generation WLAN planning

Wireless implementations have run the gamut from quick and haphazard to completely unsanctioned and unplanned. This tip outlines the steps needed to plan a successful and scalable WLAN implementation.

So you are thinking about deploying your first WLAN throughout your enterprise. All your competitors are doing it, the vendors are pushing it and the large service providers are selling it. The return on investment has proven out and it seems like everyone is considering doing something with wireless.

There is a good reason for all of this…wireless makes sense! There are a hundred good reasons for at least evaluating the capabilities and advantages a wireless solution can bring to your environment. Chances are your users will start demanding wireless capabilities, if they haven't already. If you get behind this eight ball, you will have a hard time catching up so you might as well start planning now.

Evaluation of WLAN solution technologies is a lot like buying a refrigerator. You want the most bang for your buck but you also want a fridge that can provide the best suited capabilities for your specific needs.

So, the first thing you want to do is to figure out what you need this WLAN solution to provide. What are the features and functionality you require or wish it to deliver? The WLAN should be capable of supporting both current and future (sometimes undefined) services. Secondly, you want to look at what IT services you are delivering today over the wired infrastructure. This requires you to take a deep look at the current applications and services as well as the infrastructure used to deliver them.

When planning on WLAN technology insertion, many folks focus on the new capabilities and sometimes forget about what the old network provided. A perfect example is security. Security is one aspect that is easily forgotten because, for the most part, the connection from the PC to the network is assumed secure in a wired environment. When is the last time someone required IPSec from the NIC card to the LAN port? Just wasn't needed.

Once you understand what your actual needs are, then you can move towards the development of an optimal solution. The requirements definition and current state assessment are the most often overlooked aspects to WLAN planning. Many, many people skip this initial discovery and analysis phase and immediately begin asking vendors for solutions or start developing solutions only to find out later that they did not possess all of the requirements or consider the current environment.

Armed with the information above, the next step is to evaluate the vendors. You have your list of requirements, you know what you need the WLAN vendor solution to provide, you just need information regarding the vendors capabilities. This can be accomplished in many ways including local vendor support, RFP/RFQ or do it yourself. Either way, ensure that you have a way of differentiating between the solutions. Don't just use cost or ability to support new fancy services (like seamless mobility/roaming). Evaluate on the following at a minimum:

  • Ability to provide support for both current and future application services
  • Ability to integrate into the current environment
  • Ability to scale to meet current and future demand
  • Ease of Management
  • Cost Effectiveness and Reliability

These requirements must be met at a minimum. These are the KEY areas to evaluate to ensure that the chosen solution is the right solution. If the solution chosen does not provide the above features, it should be eliminated.

Once you have gone through this exercise above, you now know the vendor and the architecture you want to move forward with. The key now is how in the heck do you design the chosen solution to integrate seamlessly? The answer to that question is left for another day!!!

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 July 2005

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