Enterprise IT Watch Blog

Aug 10 2010   8:02AM GMT

Planning for Success: How to build the perfect .11n network bit by byte

Melanie Yarbrough Profile: MelanieYarbrough

It’s the interior design of IT enterprise, but someone has to do it. Rethinking and – ultimately – redesigning your network to wireless should happen in several phases, the first of which is planning. Like my father says, Planning prevents piss poor performance. The 5 Ps, if you will. This month we’re focusing on wireless networking and the steps necessary to untangling you from the wires of yesteryear.

Why WiFi (WhyFi?)

In general, creating a wireless network allows for greater flexibility, from in-office mobility to network configuration. Wires can limit signal strength and hinder the reorganization and growth of your network configuration, making costs saved from increased productivity and the ease of reconfiguring your network an important consideration. Lisa Phifer of Search Networking reports that “even ‘average’ companies [that invested in 802.11n] reported 114% growth in WLAN traffic, a 60% increase in wireless coverage throughout their offices, and a 44% reduction in downtime.” Can you afford anything less?

A walk through the WiFi technologies

Today’s industry standard, 802.11n has improved upon the bandwidth of previous standards by using multiple wireless signals and antennas or MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology. It can handle data rates up to 100 Mbps with a better range and backward compatibility with 802.11g. There was definitely a build-up to the 802.11n, which features the fastest maximum speed, best range and most resistance to interference.

The follow-up to the pioneering 802.11, 802.11b offered a respectable 11 Mbps, similar to a traditional Ethernet. Because the radio signal frequency was unregulated, there was room for interference from microwaves and cordless phones utilizing the 2.4 GHz frequency. The follow-up 802.11a had an increased bandwidth of 54 Mbps. The regulated frequency, around 5 GHz, solved the interference problem but introduced a shorter range easily obstructed by walls.

Enter the 802.11g, birthed from the attempt to combine the pros of 802.11a/b, with a bandwidth of up to 54 Mbps. Backwards compatible with 802.11b, it operates on the 2.5 GHz frequency, making interference a consideration. The higher cost was worth it for the combination of a fast maximum speed and a wide range.

Avoiding Piss Poor Performance

Now it’s time to remember the 5 Ps and begin planning. It’s important to understand that an overhaul such as the wired-to-wireless transition can be too much for an all-at-once solution. Knowing what level of upgrade your company is capable of is the first step. Search Networking’s Lisa Phifer suggests that “upgrades must be budgeted and scheduled over time, resulting in an incremental network infrastructure migration.”

Consider the hardware you’ll have to replace such as Fast Ethernet switches (with Gigabit Ethernet switches). Because 802.11n uses more electricity than previous access points, you’ll need to consider an upgrade in switch ports to provide more power. Get in on the 2.4 GHz versus 5 GHz debate; do you need the wider range provided by 2.4 GHz or will you deploy dual band wireless LAN APs? If you decide to deploy both frequencies in your network, consider building the capability to guide clients to connect in 5 GHz when possible. Search Networking’s Shamus McGillicuddy suggests Cisco’s BandSelect or Aruba’s “band steering feature in its Adaptive Radio Management software.”

Sit down and do this:

  • Try to predict the traffic load that wireless will deliver to your wired network and how it will grow over time.
  • Plan for refresh cycles as clients and your workforce migrates to 11n devices.
  • Plan and design your WLAN design and configuration to solve bottlenecks before they occur.
  • Upgrading from Power over Ethernet to MIMO will require more power; consider this when planning upgrades.
  • Be sure that legacy tools such as WLAN analyzers are upgraded and prepared to work with 802.11n.
  • A larger network with increased capabilities such as the 802.11n also requires better security with increased monitoring. In order for your wireless network to meet its full potential, it must be fully secured and monitored from the get-go with 24/7 alerts of unwanted connections to the network.

In IT there is definitely a time and a place for the trial and error method, but when you begin migrating your wired network to wireless, avoid trial and error for maximum effectiveness and minimum headaches.

Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her on Twitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.

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