802.11n Ratification – Enterprises, Time to Get Wet!

As Joanie Wexler points out in her recent Network World article ”Prepping for (finally!) a standard 11n world,” the imminent ratification of the 802.11n standard will push enterprises to be more serious about investing in 802.11n. Though some early-adopters have already jumped in, either just to test the waters or because their wireless application plans demanded increased performance, most enterprises have been holding off for the final ratification. For those enterprises entering the 11n water for the first time, the Network World article offers some good preparation tips, whether your entry is from the 3m board or a slow stroll in from the shore.

In addition to the tips already offered, several other important points come to mind as you prepare your entry. And you guessed it, our tips center around network management.

First, the benefits you’ll realize as you move towards 11n will likely have you rethinking the way you use wireless, so what better time to also rethink how you  manage wireless. It goes without saying that your wireless management infrastructure will need to be upgraded to include 11n. Some management applications are just getting there, while others, like OmniPeek, have been there for many years already with a substantial amount of real-world testing, not to mention the use of OmniPeek as part of the Wi-Fi Alliance 802.11n interoperability testing. A move to 11n will most certainly include a move to WPA2 for security, if you haven’t already made that move, increasing the need for a network management solution that handles both wireless and wired traffic simultaneously so you can monitor your 802.1x authentication all the way back to the wired sources. And with the increased bandwidth of 802.11n, you’ll likely be considering applications like voice-over-wireless, which will require additional measurement techniques like wireless roaming to ensure proper operation of your network and ensure wireless call quality. Basically the message is this: plan for wireless management up front as you make the transition to 11n and make sure your wireless management solutions meet the demands of the new applications you intend to deploy.

Second, this is an excellent time to consider HOW you plan to monitor the wireless network, either for troubleshooting or 24×7 observation. Wireless networks are becoming much, much larger, and the days of walking around with a laptop running wireless analysis software to do troubleshooting are drawing to a close. However, wireless networks still require a “point of presence” to do adequate monitoring and certainly any troubleshooting, meaning data must be collected near the source of the reported problem. “Overlay” networks have been the standard solution for the past several years, but this is expensive solution requiring duplicative hardware and network resources (network drops, router ports, etc.). This can be mitigated during your 11n planning by designing in just a bit more density in your AP deployment and then relying on wireless management solutions that can leverage deployed APs and turn them sensors when monitoring or troubleshooting is required. This solution is highly cost-effective since the additional density typically only results in about a 10% increase in the number of APs, much less than the number of dedicated sensors you would need to deploy, and every AP can be put to use in the network resulting in even better network performance when not in use as sensors. This is an extremely important consideration as you roll out a new 802.11n deployment and the cost savings over a traditional “overlay” solution can be substantial.

So, whether you’re diving in head first or just putting in your little toe, this is the time to reconsider not just network upgrades and the new applications you wish to introduce, but the new management challenges for the network as well. The increased throughput, increased mobility and increasing integration between your wireless and wired network put new demands on your wireless network management solutions. Make sure your solution has already proven that it can meet these demands. OmniPeek has been doing this for years.

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