Imagine you’re holding a regional seminar in Bristol, with VIP attendees and a lot of technology on show. For reasons too complicated to go into here, you find you have to switch venues at less than seventy-two hours notice.
But you’re Microsoft! Obviously it must still all run perfectly…
The brief given to us at Bristol IT Company by the venue manager was deceptively simple: provide very fast internet access over WiFi, but in a location that had neither WiFi nor any internet connection (of any sort!). The seminar space, an entire floor of an office block, had to have “seamless coverage”, with no dropouts or dead spots. And the technology had to be hidden from view, too – no wires or boxes visible anywhere.
This was trickier than you’d think. The building is a skyscraper (albeit not a very tall one), and the central core houses the facilities, including six lift shafts, emergency stairs, washrooms and all the vertical cable and pipe runs. Because of all that screening steelwork and concrete, no single point near the centreline of the building would work as a WiFi access point location. It had to be more sophisticated than that. And to make matters worse, the chosen floor of the building had no internet connection, either.
There was one ray of sunshine though. At the time, our Bristol datacentre was housed in the same building, albeit several floors away. We had (and still have!) a lot of internet bandwidth available to us. Bulk purchasing allows us to offer high-speed internet to clients on-demand, and at very low rates.
With approval from the building’s management, we were able to run a fibre-optic link down four floors, to reach our secure technical area, where we hooked it into our network. This had the additional advantage of being able to easily add protection from one of our own firewalls. The WiFi coverage itself remained an issue, but we had a solution.
An ad hoc, managed, WiFi network
Cisco have products that let customers manage multiple WiFi access points as one unit.
The WiFi coverage does indeed appear seamless: handovers from one WiFi access point to another are undetectable from the client device’s perspective.
So we installed a managed Cisco access point in each corner of the building, four altogether as it’s roughly square, and controlled them via a hub and Cisco’s software. We have huge experience of setting-up Cisco networks, so configuration was straightforward.
Microsoft ran their prestigious seminar without a hitch. They were very pleased, as were we. Yes, we do the fiendishly difficult every day; the truly impossible may take slightly longer!
Footnote: Recently, we have also become HP-Aruba channel partners, and recommend their WiFi management and access point technology alongside Cisco’s. The two product lines have different strengths, so we are now better able to help our customers make the best technology choices for specific applications.