Evaluating wireless LAN requirements: What to consider before buying

When considering a WLAN solution for your enterprise, you'll have to start by assessing the wireless LAN requirements necessary.

In the fourth part of this series, we discussed critical questions to ask WLAN vendors when assessing WLAN solutions....

In this fifth part, we discuss how to evaluate the necessary wireless LAN requirements in order to successfully deploy a WLAN solution in your enterprise.

There may be a WLAN solution out there that supports all of your enterprise's primary access needs, but before choosing that solution, you'll have to evaluate your organization's wireless LAN requirements. Doing the up-front research and identifying your wireless LAN requirements will reduce mid- and post-project slowdowns or regrets.

The key decision criteria reach beyond WLAN features and include delivery models and support options -- and these will differ depending on your organization's needs. Defining what you need can be expedited by the following five-step process:

  • Evaluate where you are today. What systems are in place? Where is your equipment in terms of depreciation? What is most in need of replacement in the short term? How much could you keep of what you already have within the framework of your requirements, and how much would have to go? Is an OpEx-based model preferred to a CapEx model in your enterprise? Over what timeframe would you have to show a return on investment or lowered total cost of ownership for the WLAN -- three, five or 10 years?
  • Develop short- and long-term requirements. What are users asking for that you aren't providing? How are work locations changing? More and smaller branches? Fewer and larger? Is telecommuting increasing? How mobile is your workforce? How much do they use WLAN vs. LAN now? How much of this is due to availability, and how much is preference? What is the impact of wireless and mobility on your network? How much bring your own device and guest access do you need to support? What types of devices does your enterprise support and in what ratios? What type of apps are you running, developing and planning for? What combination of native, remotely accessed and/or HTML5 apps are you aiming for? What compliance and security requirements affect your technology decision making? What LAN and WAN solutions are in place? To what extent does this WLAN solution have to integrate with management and security?

More from Philip Clarke

Read the rest of his tips on evaluating enterprise WLAN considerations

  • Analyze the gaps. Can you support short- and long-term requirements? If not, in what areas do you need to invest?
  • Evaluate vendor roadmaps. What are vendors delivering that you haven't addressed internally? Which vendors' go-to-market and overall strategies most closely align with your requirements? Which vendors "get it" with respect to your requirements? How are your current vendors adapting to trends? Which of these or other vendors have a sustainable strategy (pricing or otherwise)?
  • Develop the roadmap. A roadmap is not a project plan, but a high-level list of milestones that you need to reach in order to transform your collaboration environment.

A closer look at the WLAN solution procurement process

Evaluating wireless LAN requirements and where you are today is largely a process of determining and accounting for current WLAN assets and interviewing senior management to see where they are in terms of preference for different pricing models (OpEx vs. CapEx). You may find that management is more than happy to turn capital expenditures that end up being scrapped or resold at a significant loss into steady, predictable operational expenses. Or you may find them committed to a previous purchase and to fully leveraging the sunk costs and depreciated assets.

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Next-generation WLAN planning

Developing your short- and long-term requirements lets you determine the type of solution that best fits your needs by making you carefully articulate those needs. This is complex, made more so by mobility and apps. These are the primary features driving WLAN growth. Determining how these features affect your WLAN is fundamental to any plan, especially if your end goal is a "WLAN first" project.

Luckily, simplification is inherent in the way WLAN vendors design and sell their products, which is to say, they are designed to integrate well with non-WLAN equipment. This means that they can be dropped in as a solution no matter what infrastructure is already present. Yet, getting different semiproprietary and proprietary protocols and features to work together within a WLAN can be challenging, if not impossible, so a single-vendor WLAN solution is encouraged.

Beyond the functions that still require expensive and single-purpose appliances (deep packet inspection, some VPN concentrators, enhanced IPS/IDS), today's WLANs are exceptionally modular, particularly those based on fat access point (AP) technology. If you pilot a fat AP to see how it interacts with your existing infrastructure, you can do so for an estimated $5,000 a year, which includes a single AP, management tools and support. Consequently, piloting and trying multiple solutions simultaneously does not have to be a capital-intensive exercise, and given the importance of supporting your workforce with excellent WLAN infrastructure, it's a veritable bargain.

About the author
Philip Clarke is a Research Analyst at Nemertes Research, where he is a co-leader of the Wireless and Mobility research track, advises clients on wireless topics, writes key trends and thought-leadership reports, conducts statistical analysis, and develops research reports.

Read the sixth part of this series where we discuss factors to consider when determining WLAN management.

This was last published in January 2013

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