Planning a wireless deployment starts long before deployment commencement. IT professionals need to define the project by listing deployment goals, and analyzing feasibility and risks; identify and notify personnel involved in the deployment; identify and notify personnel affected by the deployment; and, create a detailed maintenance window schedule. An improperly planned WLAN deployment will create network inconsistencies that could damage business capabilities and negatively impact user experience.
In general, it’s helpful for IT to reach out to facilities on an ongoing basis. Keep abreast of any changes that could affect the bandwidth, channel selection and utilization of the wireless network. Ask for updates on infrastructure changes such as new wireless projectors, wireless outlets, doors, security cameras, and lights. Even something like new ductwork can have an effect on existing AP placement. During outreach, explain to facilities why the information is needed. This education on what can cause interference enlists facility managers’ help in early prevention.
This best practice keeps IT aware of network coverage and capacity necessities, two key considerations when planning a WLAN deployment. Coverage planning entails knowing the physical environment that will house the network, and knowing what factors will affect signal power, range and attenuation. Capacity planning is a newer focus, one that is incredibly important. With so many new devices on the market, and the practice of 1:1 Computing and BYOD, understanding utilization and demand are core elements of deployment planning.
When it is necessary to roll out changes, follow these five best practices:
Gather Requirements and Create an Implementation Plan
Ensure everyone involved understands the purpose of the deployment and all requirements necessary for success. Even if there is regular communication with the facility, schedule a site tour to finalize coverage and capacity needs. Pay attention to:
Current capacity and RF demand
Modes and channels utilized/supported
Environmental factors that could affect range and performance
Create a detailed list of any new infrastructure components/equipment needed, if necessary for the deployment.
Determine who the deployment impacts, and let them know when the deployment will start, how long the maintenance window will be, and what they should, or shouldn’t, expect to see afterwards. Clear communication here is key to a successful deployment. If any changes will impact user interaction, publicize the change details beforehand and minimize confusion afterwards.
Who is responsible for assessing the environment directly after the deployment? Is this the same person/team that will provide long-term maintenance support? If the IT professionals responsible for the deployment will not manage the network afterwards, include proper training for the support team in the planning process. In general, ensure the team knows how to tune APs for signal strength and channel selection; and, how to manage physical controllers at the facility and virtual controllers in the cloud. Technical requirements specific to the network will evolve with each deployment. Update training as necessary.
Create a Detailed Rollout Strategy
Determine the optimum line between just fast enough – and too fast. The deployment shouldn’t stop business for days, but it also shouldn’t proceed so quickly that it places the network at risk. Find that line and don’t cross it. Also, determine points in the deployment where it would be possible to stop the rollout if there was necessary cause – and points where it would be impossible to roll back changes. Have contingency plans in place for each situation.
Plan for Scalability
Define the current WLAN state, the desired state, and the future desired state (three to five year planning). Plan for capacity expansion. If deployments are needed, they should not be pushed off, but analyzing the network and planning for future changes can prevent knee-jerk deployments disrupting business too often.
This should go without saying, but do not forego security measures, not even for short, simple deployments. A shortcut could lead to large security holes in the future and serious network threats. Review security best practices and follow them for all deployments.
Including these best practices in a WLAN deployment plan will mitigate the risks associated with working in such a dynamic environment. After each deployment, remember to continue checking in with the facility periodically. The RF environment is constantly changing and periodic check-ins will ensure the network continues operating optimally.
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