On the Lambda

Programming, Technology, and Systems Administration

On the Lambda

A Different Way to Wifi Part 1: Basic Requirements

March 30th, 2011 · No Comments · wifi

Before I really get into things I need to cover some basic requirements you will need for your network.

First up is that you do need an existing, functional, wired network.  This network should already have established links to each building.  Your network should also already have adequate switching capacity (in terms of ports) for the access points you’ll want to add.

Arionet 1003

Expensive Access points *not* required

There are some specific features you’ll want to check for in your switches, as well.  Most of these are a given these days, but they bear mentioning.  First of all, the switches should support vlans via 802.1q tagging.  Your core switch needs to support Cisco’s IP Helper feature (or your switch vendor’s equivalent —  our 3Com equipment calls it “Virtual Interface”). This allows you to easily set up a single dhcp server to use different IP ranges for different subnets.

That brings me to the next item.  You’ll need existing dhcp and dns servers that support handling multiple subnets from the same server.  Support for RADIUS is also nice, but you can add a small virtual machine for this somewhere if you need to.  Windows Server Standard Edition can handle all this nicely by itself, and I’m pretty sure the standard linux tools can as well with nothing fancy.

Another requirement is a good gateway solution.  One of the things you give up when eschewing a traditional controller is reporting.  I’ll cover that more in a later post, but for now it’s important to note that you’ll need to think about how you’re going to gain insights into what’s happening on your network. A good gateway solution can help here.  At York College, we currently use Untangle.

This next item should be a given, but I want to make sure to mention that you will need a few test devices.  This includes both Windows and Mac-based laptops, and a couple mobile devices are very helpful as well.  When all is said and done, you need to be able to quickly verify that things work in a basic sense for the different kinds of device you’ll need to support.

Finally, and probably most important, you’ll need a dedicated network support team. People who know your network, know your business and needs, and know your users. At York College, that was (until recently) just me.  I now have additional support staff, but for the first part of this I was the sole person working on wireless at the campus.

The thing I want readers to take away from this is that whole idea behind what I’m doing is to take advantage of existing infrastructure you already have.  If you don’t already have the core infrastructure, you’re looking at a major vendor contract anyway, and at this point you’re likely just as well off going with a traditional enterprise deployment.  But if you do, and you have people who can implement it, this really can work.

Next time: Wifi 101


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