Reality IT: Wired or Wireless? You Decide

My company is setting up a new satellite office in a nearby city. One major decision is whether or not to go fully wireless at this remote location, and you

September 22, 2006

3 Min Read
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Usually in this column I share my experiences and opinions with you. This time, I thought it would be informative if you shared your insights with me. ACME is setting up a new satellite office in a nearby city and, as you might expect, IT is planning for connectivity and other technology requirements. One major decision is whether or not to go fully wireless at this remote office, and I want to get input from you, the readers. I'll outline the specifics, then I'd like to hear what you think. I'll report on your responses--and our final decision--in a forthcoming column.

There will be about 40 staffers at the new site, almost all sales and marketing types with laptops. The office doesn't have network cabling yet, which is one reason we're considering the wireless option. Cable drops on each wall of the office--each usually with two phone and two data jacks and related network closet Ethernet switches--are pricey. By contrast, a few wireless access points and one Ethernet switch are much cheaper. We're even looking to go with wireless connectivity for printing.

For those of you quick to point out that we would still have to pull lots of wires for the phone system, our telecom manager, Sandra Hook, already had most of our sales staff using VoIP soft-phone clients, eliminating the need even for telephone wiring.

Wireless would also work from a productivity standpoint. The sales and marketing staff are heavy e-mail and ERP users and both apps are available using our Web-based remote-session client software, so high-speed links and local servers aren't essential. Another idea we are mulling over is deploying broadband wireless cards on the satellite office employees' laptops. Our CIO, Steve Fox, is being surprisingly flexible about considering various office and user connectivity options.

I'm sure some of you out there are saying, "Wait a minute--wireless isn't that easy. And you still have to plan for office-to-office connectivity." Well--yes and no.We use frame relay to connect our other satellite offices to the main office. But for this new office we're considering an appliance-based site-to-site VPN tunnel, with Internet access provided by a metro fiber provider. The provider offers 100-Mbps Internet access in certain cities for only $1,500 a month. We have this connectivity in our main office--and yes, this rocks. The first time you download some massive patch from Microsoft that used to take minutes and now takes seconds, you want to kiss your ISP. The uptime is also good, but we keep a point-to-point leased T1 with Internet access from another provider as a backup.

Bucky Rogers, our IT security manager, was not going to let the network team off the hook when it came to authentication for a wireless network. If we go with the wireless LAN and a connection to our frame relay network or site-to-site VPN, we will certainly lock down access security with authentication such as 802.1X--but that comes with added cost, hardware and complexity.

So, we're considering having just raw Internet access at the remote site--using the metro fiber provider, no site-to-site VPN or frame relay. The users would hit the basically secured wireless LAN (encryption/keys) and then access our corporate systems with their existing client VPN software. The 100-Mbps access from the metro provider would offer excellent connectivity with our main office.

So that's the story. What would you do? What might we have missed in our considerations? Do you have a purely wireless office? Have other thoughts in general? I welcome your input.

Hunter Metatek is an enterprise IT director with 15 years' experience in network engineering and management. The events chronicled in this column are based in fact--only the names are fiction. Write to the author at [email protected].0

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