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Campus Wi-Fi network keeps costs low, security high

A network admin says his organization struggled with the security and cost issues of Wi-Fi, but it found a way to achieve top-of-the-line security without breaking the bank.

Like many admins, Rodney Kluever recently faced a daunting task: find a way to use Wi-Fi to satisfy the connectivity requirements of a distributed organization while ensuring his expansive network stayed safe.

Kluever is the network manager at Yakima Valley School in Selah, Wash., a state nursing facility. Despite being an independent organization, the facility has its network tied into a larger state network.

The users located throughout the 32-acre facility needed a way to efficiently and securely share patient records and other documents among its main nursing center and several smaller remote buildings.

Because the remote buildings were not linked to the network, employees had to carry information on foot from building to building.

Kluever said he looked into copper and fiber to connect the remote facilities, but those options were more than double the cost of a wireless deployment. He was apprehensive about wireless because of the additional security concerns associated with the technology.

Among the options he considered, Kluever said the Linksys wireless cards and access points could be easily hacked into as they only offer Web encryption. Plus, he said, Cisco System Inc.'s products are too proprietary.

However, he breathed a sign of relief when he came across the wireless WAN products from Madge Ltd. Madge eased his fears by offering a price he could afford with more security features than the other wireless vendors on the market.

Token ring LAN hardware was Madge's original focus, but in 2003 a management buyout took the company private. In 2004, a funding round led by venture capital firm Sigma Technology Group was able to raise approximately $3.8 million for Madge.

Those funds fueled its WLAN product development, as well as expanded marketing and sales efforts. Soon thereafter, Madge inked a U.S. distribution deal with Ingram Micro, and began signing up resellers. The company later introduced dual-radio access points, high-end and midrange versions of the Enterprise Access Server (EAS), and the WLAN Probe Monitor.

One year ago, Kluever deployed the U.K.-based vendor's PCMCIA cards, a wireless PCI bridge and a 50-user Madge Wireless EAS, which centralizes management for the wireless network, as well as manages the security, wireless devices and interfaces between the wireless and wired network.

"I was looking for a low-cost, high-security solution," he said. "Hands down, Madge has everyone beat from what I can tell."

The WLAN deployment increased the facility's productivity and strengthened Kluever's trust in wireless. In fact, the school just upgraded to Madge's new EAS 100.

Kluever said the previous deployment took about 20 minutes per machine on the network and was fairly time consuming. But he said the upgrade only took 17 minutes to take down the entire network, upgrade and start the network back up.

"It was pretty slick and really easy to upgrade," he added. "Now our network's not holding any punches back."

The EAS 100 has a built-in Radius server and certificate authority to handle security and authentication locally. Other security options include media access control address lists and a built-in firewall to control specific IP ports and VPN support.

The product also includes all the functionality of the other members of the EAS family, providing scalability from a single access point device to multi-site implementations for thousands of enterprise users.

Kluever said, besides its security and cost-efficiency benefits, the multi-vendor nature is another motivating factor to deploy the upgrade.

The new device is intended to secure and manage approximately 100 users on up to five access points. The APs can be Madge's own or a range of third-party products via Simple Network Management Protocol, which governs network management and monitors network devices and their functions.

Madge CEO Martin Malina touts the product's multi-vendor WLAN infrastructure providing interoperability between Cisco, Proxim Corp., 3Com Corp. and D-link Corp. devices.

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