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Thursday, January 20, 2011

You’re Going To Need A Bigger Network

Things To Consider As Your Business Expands -  keyword: IT Article, networking, hardware, ruckus wireless
Growth happens. Technologies change. To make matters more interesting, both tend to happen at the same time. Network connectivity is now ubiquitous and necessary in the workplace, but making effective use of wired and wireless Ethernet in an upward-scaling business comes with plenty of challenges. Let’s make sure you’re ready to meet these challenges with as few growing pains as possible.

Key Obstacles
When a company grows, either in staff size or physical space, the LAN must expand to accommodate the change. According to Shane Buckley, general manager and senior vice president of Netgear’s SMB Unit, expansion inevitably faces obstacles on any number of fronts:

Allowing for a converged network infrastructure. Yes, all network traffic may be IP-based, but the applications using that IP traffic now fall into voice, video, and data buckets, and each application
type has its own requirements. Video is obviously the most demanding in terms of bandwidth, but voice is less tolerant of latency and jitter. Moreover, the latest IP telephone handsets, conference phones, and wireless APs (access points) can leverage PoE (Power over Ethernet), eliminating the need for a separate power line. So when planning the infrastructure, plan for power as well as bandwidth.

Providing access from anywhere. Growing companies tend to have restless employees. One internal Microsoft study found that, on average, employees were only at their desks for 40% of their workday. This is why wireless coverage must be everywhere that employees and guests might spend time, especially if it’s an area in which people converge. “Wireless networks need to provide guest access (hotspot functionality), RF management, and fast roaming to ensure performance is optimized,” says Buckley.

Ruckus Wireless 901-2211
Securing the organization. In general, the bigger the company, the bigger target it becomes for attackers. It can also mean that there is more sensitive information you don’t want leaking out. Thus beefier firewall, anti-malware, and content management systems become increasingly essential. The all-in-one security appliances that used to protect the main office may now only satisfy a branch. Keep in mind that many security devices, including VPN routers, have a finite amount of processing bandwidth to accommodate a growing user base. For this reason, an increasing number of companies are now considering outsourcing some security functions to cloud-based services.

Accommodating ballooning storage needs. Having islands of storage scattered around a business is increasingly unsustainable because there’s too much data in too many places—much of it unnecessarily replicated—for IT to handle. Instead, migration into centrally managed SANs (storage area networks) will improve performance, potentially lower total ownership costs, and reduce traffic loads on the LAN.

“Growing businesses need to deploy virtualization to ensure cost efficiency and scalability of server infrastructure,” says Buckley. “They also need to provide enhanced file sharing and backup/ restore capabilities. Solutions should be able to support NAS and SAN functionality on the same platform and have software tools to provide centralized backup and cloud storage capabilities.”

Improving management. Administering 50 systems is one thing; tackling 500 is something else. As networks expand, IT must have scalable management tools in order to perform everything from asset tracking to bandwidth and application monitoring. Otherwise, you simply don’t know how your network is being used and have no control over it in order to maintain acceptable performance levels across all applications.

Migrate To Managed
As user and terminal counts increase, businesses must either add more Ethernet jacks (or move existing ones into more optimal places) or expand wireless coverage. Often, expanding wireless still means adding Ethernet jacks because APs need a wired connection to the LAN. Compared to stringing RJ45 cabling through walls and crawlspaces, Wi-Fi is a breeze, but there’s a scaling issue awaiting the unprepared.

For starters, think about the physical space involved and the number of APs needed to cover that area. An enterprise-class AP should cover at least 5,000 square feet. According to David Callisch, vice president of marketing at Ruckus Wireless (, a “smart” AP that can optimize signal connections dynamically should span about 8,000 square feet. The more low-end the AP, the more of them a business will need to cover a given space. Callisch notes that adding two or three such enterprise-class APs can easily enable

Consumer-grade APs will usually lack the management and security features businesses need. When a new security policy necessitates changing access point settings throughout the company, support for another 100 to 200 users and cover an area in excess of 15,000 square feet. Keep in mind that not every AP needs a wired LAN feed. By IT staff won’t want to log in to 50 APs one at a time. They want to have centralized management, make one universal change, and be done. This is typically managed via a WLAN controller made for the specific brand of APs being used. These controllers also help with scaling growth into new
branch office locations. configuring some APs as repeaters and creating a “smart mesh,” the WLAN can be significantly extended from the nearest Ethernet drop provided that maximum data throughput isn’t a necessity. Connection speeds tend to halve with each successive repeater link.

Callisch advises branches to deploy smart Wi-Fi access points that can automatically ‘phone home’ over the broadband connection to a centralized controller. “The controller lets IT staff easily manage, troubleshoot, and configure remote APs just as if they were onsite, while still providing the same level of service to remote users,” he says. “If the wide area’s connection fails, these APs will still provide local services to users.”

Inter-brand AP compatibility is a hit-and-miss affair. Basic functionality may work, but advanced features, such as management and dynamic load balancing, may not. Callisch advises taking older, off-brand APs and repurposing them into public areas. Here, they can be logically segmented from the rest of the network into a discrete VLAN (virtual LAN) and used for guest access.

Plan It
Fortunately, several major networking vendors offer configurator tools that can help businesses plan for network expansion. Netgear’s Business Solutions site at is one example. WLAN controllers will also often have analysis tools for pinpointing where you should place APs for maximum effectiveness. If nothing else, get sales reps from different vendors on the phone for advice.

Not least of all, keep a close eye on bandwidth usage. (The ICSI Networking Group provides some starting points at .html.) Know how much throughput each application and user needs for unfettered results. You also want to measure actual usage before and after the expansion in order to identify areas that might need subsequent bolstering. If you grow users without increasing bandwidth, eventually sensitive apps, such as VoIP and video, will suffer and cost the organization business. So plan well, anticipate
further scaling even after the current expansion, and enjoy the benefits of a robust LAN. ▲

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