Deploy 2014, Part 3: Network Infrastructure

This week, on the podcast, Bradley and I discuss your network infrastructure. 1:1 deployments require drastically different network planning than was needed during the “computer lab” era. The show starts start with a discussion of examining what you have. There are a couple of key points:

  • Don’t assume your network can handle a 1:1 deployment.
  • Don’t assume it can be upgraded cheaply.
  • Don’t assume it can be upgrade quickly.

Bradley also makes the point that it is very beneficial to go visit other schools to learn about the network decisions they made. It is also important to remember your incoming and outgoing bandwidth limitations when planning. Bradley mentions that with 400×400 speed from his ISP, a caching server isn’t as important as it is for someone with a 10×1 connection.

We move onto a discussion about firewalls. Bradley is currently using a Sonicwall NSA3500 (how ironic that product name is now). He is moving to a NSA4600 due to DHCP overload on his campus. I'm using an old AirPort Extreme, but is planning on moving to using a BR200 from Aerohive. Bradley also points out that he keeps a warranty on this item because it can’t be bought off the shelf anywhere and his network is down without it.

The next item was switches. Switches can range from $50 to $5000. The ulitmate goal is to get what you need for your deployment. Depending on your size, you might need VLAN and management capability. You at least need CAT5e between all of your switches. It’s highly recommended that you have CAT6 or 1 GB fiber. If money is no object, you can prepare for the future with 10 GB fiber connection.

WiFi is the next topic that is discussed. It’s important to understand that bad WiFi is hard to overcome. If you don’t have the benefit of having a lot of concrete in your building, it’s highly recommend to get a site survey done by a VAR (value added reseller). As you begin discussions with vendors, determine what types of radios your devices have. You don’t want to spend money getting high end 3×3 radios if all of your devices are 1SS.

  • iPad Air and Retina Mini are 2×2 11n
  • All previous iOS devices are 1×1
  • MacBook Air is 2×2 11ac
  • Retina MacBook Pro is 3×3 11ac

We also discuss why you don’t need 10 SSIDs and the various types of WiFi authentication.

The show is closed out with a brief discussion on printers (with AirPrint), financing, and why the network needs to be finished ahead of deployment day. Bradley mentions that he is seeing some smaller model MFPs include AirPrint, so it should be making its way to the larger models soon. Bradley really recommends financing your network equipment as that gives you a clear upgrade path in the future. The problem with “un-sexy” purchases like switches are that there is never a good time to replace them. They are core pieces of the network, so having a systematic upgrade plan never leaves you with 12 year old switches. Bradley recommends a 3 year lease on WiFi equipment since the industry is moving so fast.

It’s important to get this aspect of your deployment right. You’ll burn a lot of bridges and waste a lot of goodwill if your network fails within the first week of a deployment. Even if you know there is no money for upgrades, you need to be making recommendations so that you can at least say “I told you so”. Also, don’t be afraid to hire projects out. Very few IT people are masters of firewalls, switches, MDM, iOS, and WiFi. Focus on what you do best and hire out cabling and other time consuming things.

I hope you're enjoying the series so far. You can subscribe in iTunes, directly on our site or in the search feature of your mobile podcast client.