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Interop Preview: When Good Wireless Feels Bad

Users of a well-designed corporate or campus WLAN can get a bit spoiled. They get used to high performance and reliability to the point where they forget that wireless is a bolt-on to the wired network. They want to use any device, at any time, in any location. They are blissfully ignorant of the thousands of moving parts that perform the amazing technical ballet that makes the WLAN and wired network tick.

When problems hit, users immediately cry that the wireless network is letting them down--regardless of what's really happening. This is the subject of my session at Interop New York, "When Users Think Your Good WLAN Is Bad."

I'll talk about the non-WLAN things that can bork out and result in trouble tickets for your wireless networks. And that list can be long, depending on how big the overall enterprise is. From load balancers to DNS and the 3G side of iPads to poorly orchestrated broadcast applications, your WLAN is going to get blamed for things it couldn't do even if it wanted to.

To the client, it's all the same. To you, it can be maddening unless you learn how to deal with inevitable, mistaken cries of, "Your network sucks."

[Sports stadiums and other large venues are beefing up WLANs. Get details on the latest developments in "Philadelphia Eagles Join Stadium Wi-Fi Stampede."]

And just how do you counter false alarms? How do you keep the train of perception on the rails as well as you keep the network healthy? I'll lay out a tapestry of approaches that I use in my day job at Syracuse University. These include communications and management buy-in, as well as thickening of the skin. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but I can share common concerns that will apply regardless of organizational makeup or network design.

Mobility is expanding at an insane pace, wireless is hot and only getting hotter, and Ethernet is being marginalized in favor of the power of portability demanded by a generation of cool new devices. At the same time, the laws of physics dictate that wireless can never be as fast or as statistically reliable as wired Ethernet.

Ideally the WLAN would just "be there" day in and day out. In general, that's usually the case, but problems do arise. Those things are seldom attributable the WLAN itself, yet I spend my share of time defending the WLAN. I'm looking forward to talking about it with you at Interop.