Experts: Planning Key to Successful Enterprise Wi-Fi

By Colin C. Haley

June 27, 2003

IT executives from DigitalNet and Harvard Med School discuss process of buying, building and managing a large wireless network.

BOSTON -- For executives at DigitalNet, a Dulles, Va., systems integrator, there were two reasons to install wireless local area network: to improve the productivity of its workers and to gain experience to perform similar projects for its clients.

"We wanted to do it to ourselves first," Bob Martin, vice president of wireless and digital computing for DigitalNet, said during a panel discussion here at 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo.

First, the company had to determine that Wi-Fi would improve the productivity of its workers -- otherwise it was a nonstarter. Believing its workers would benefit from access to e-mail and files when traveling, as well as greater collaboration in its headquarters and regional offices, convinced DigitalNet to proceed.

That was the easy part. DigitalNet had other decisions to make. Since the company does about half its business with the defense department and intelligence agencies, security was paramount. A publicized breach at DigitalNet could undermine the company's reputuation.

Given that, DigitalNet needed a system that was compliant with FIPs 140-2 (an encryption standard demanded by the federal government). To date, many hackers have fallen under the "experimentor" or "snooper" categories, but that will change, hence DigiNet's need for the more stringent standard.

In addition, the company bought network monitoring software to detect usage patterns, which could alert managers to intrusions.

Useage policies for employees were also drafted, with guidlines for passwords, encrytption of local and transmitted data as well as mandatory installation of anti-virus software on all mobile devices. Other moves included changing default settings and setting network timeouts.

The majority of DigitalNet's access points are Cisco gear, but the company also installed some Enterasys equipment for comparison sake.

Joseph M. Bruno, associate dean for information technology at Harvard Medical School, faced similar issues when architecting the instittion's wireless systems.

The school occupies a dozen buildings and is used by thousands of faculty, staff and students and before a system was established, unauthorized wireless access points were springing up in labs causing security and compatibility concerns.

"Price was important but we wanted a system that we could easily and deploy and manage," Bruno said.

The Ivy League school recently spent millions of dollars on new wireline IT and telecommunications systems, so the wireless system needed to complement, rather than replace existing assets. After evaluating several vendors, the school bought 40 Cisco Aironet 350 access points and deployed them in six buildings. It connects with two Bluesocket WG 1000 gates.

In the future, the school will look at ways of hanfling increased userss, ad hardware switching and impelent additional security measures. It will also look to add more access points to better support loading.

Panelists cautioned that simply choosing the right equipment isn't enough. Preparing the IT staff to install and manage it must be taken seriously.

"You just can't just tell IT folks that they are now responisible for wireless," Martin said. "There is some translation in the skills but it is different."

Originally published on .

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.