Deploying 802.11n? Consider Existing Infrastructure

By Tim Scannell | Nov 8, 2007 | Print this Page
http://www.enterprisenetworkingplanet.com/netsysm/article.php/3710081/Deploying-80211n-Consider-Existing-Infrastructure.htm

Look before you leap.

That's the advice some wireless vendors are giving to companies that may be tempted to jump with both feet into higher-speed and higher-bandwidth 802.11n (define) technology.

The latest wave of products based on the still evolving technology can deliver access speeds up to 30 times faster than most existing Wi-Fi networks. When pared with multiple-input multiple output (MIMO) antenna technology, 802.11n can also have a much farther reach and signal strength than conventional Wi-Fi.

The more robust nature of 802.11n systems can overtax controllers that may not be able to keep up with the increased networking traffic flow. Security may also be an issue if wireless activities are shifted away from the controller and to the access points (AP) without installing the proper safeguards at these edge points.

Also, since 802.11n is still a year or more away from final ratification, right now there are no tools available that are specifically designed to deploy and tweak next-generation Wi-Fi networks. Companies presently installing 802.11n Draft 2.0 products are using tools that were tailored for older 802.11 a/b/g networks.

Morrisville State College, located about 30 miles southeast of Syracuse, for example, is in the process of replacing its entire wireless network with a pure 802.11n system. The goal is to have approximately 700 APs, each one incorporating 802.11 a/b/g and n radios, installed within the next few weeks, making it one of the most extensive 802.11n deployments to date.

All of the pumped up APs were positioned and deployed using older 802.11a tools, said Jean Boland, Morrisville's vice president of IT services. Boland said the college's IT team is working with Meru Networks and IBM Global Technology Services to make the forklift upgrade.

But the more powerful nature of 802.11n, as well as a reliance on older tools, could create some headaches for companies that do not do their homework.

"Many enterprises spend as much as 15% of their networking budget preventing signal bleed," says Rachna Ahlawat, vice president of strategic marketing for Meru Networks, one of many vendors now hawking 802.11n products. "With 802.11n, you have to do better planning because of its capacity and range."

The secret to the success of 802.11n is "to make better use of the pipeline," noted Ken Lynch, director of product marketing and product management at Bluesocket, Inc., another wireless solutions provider that supports a gradual approach to 802.11n adoption.

The concerns haven't stopped vendors from pumping out 802.11n products and companies from buying into the promise of higher speeds and more reliability.

A whopping 82 percent of the companies that took part in a recent survey admitted plans to deploy 802.11n systems within the next two years. A total of 315 organizations took part in the survey, conducted by Aberdeen Research and commissioned by a handful of wireless vendors.

More than 95 products based on the 802.11n Draft 2.0 specification, released in June, have also been tested and certified by the WiFi Alliance, an independent trade group.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding 802.11n in the enterprise space is how much of an impact these fleet-footed systems will have on existing controller technology. Theoretically, it is like placing a lot of very large funnels within the network that all direct traffic flow back through the wireless controller.

One way to prevent gridlock is to either automatically or selectively shift some of the controller responsibilities to the APs to selectively channel data through the controller, or avoid that route altogether and direct flow between the APs.

Bluesocket takes the selective approach, allowing users to specify which applications take the low road and which the high road back through the controller. "The benefit is that you can have full-time edge intelligence activated, but you can scale back on an application by application basis to perform load balancing in terms of the applications that are running, said Lynch.

Some experts believe there is little to fuss about with 802.11n WiFi. More powerful and capable controllers are being developed, with some incorporating direct-forwarding architectures that automatically bypass the controller for data transfers, noted Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group, a wireless consultancy.

More intelligent or 'thicker' APs are also waiting in the wings to function more as management appliances than your common garden variety AP, he added.

Article courtesy of internetnews.com