If you’re in the position of looking for a new 802.11ac wireless network solution for your organization, determining a way to differentiate the competing providers and settle on the right fit can be challenging. A good starting point is our recently released 802.11ac Buyers Guide. Solutions Review, through our extensive research on the subject from in-person conversations with both solutions providers and organizations looking for WLAN solutions, would like to help you overcome that challenge by providing you with a list of 10 questions you should ask in order to narrow down the options and find the enterprise wireless LAN solution that is best for you.
Five of the questions ask you to analyze your own organization and its needs. It is important to understand that first in order to make a good decision. The other five questions are for each of your prospective WNS vendors, and these questions seek to tease out key features and facts about the company and its solution set and then map those features and facts back to what you have learned about your own organization from the first five questions.
We hope you find the questions below a useful guide for your 802.11ac WNS buying journey.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering an 802.11ac Wireless Network Solution:
- Does my enterprise really need 802.11ac?
This obvious and to the point question has a less than satisfying answer: it depends. Specifically, it depends on what applications your end users need and/or demand to be able to run on their mobile devices. If a mission-critical business application which requires large quantities of data very quickly to work is needed on mobile devices, then AC makes sense, especially if N is having trouble delivering at the speed you need to get an edge over your competition. Another good case would be where your customers demand the ability to access data-intensive multimedia services while on your premises. A final example may be where your business sees great value in future proofing against that next big app that also requires big quantities of data… delivered to mobile devices.
- Can my current infrastructure support the high speeds 802.11ac offers?
So you’ve established a business case for AC. Does that case include the cost of replacing your outdated cat5 cabling, old routers, switches, and other potential data bottlenecks? Does it include the cost of connecting to the local fiber-optic trunk, if one is even available? If not, then asking your IT department to identify those bottlenecks at the start of your considerations can give you a better picture of the true costs of implementation and save you heartbreak down the road.
- Will it work with the rest of my business and technology environment?
Even if you need AC and your wired infrastructure can handle it, you may face other challenges when you try to implement it. One may be the very building your business inhabits. Certain architecture can limit the range of wireless radios, a problem compounded by the shorter range of AC’s higher frequency. Additionally, if your business environment already has many undirected radios broadcasting in the 5GHz range, interference might become a large problem. Included in this is consideration for the cost you and your organization are willing to bear in money, time and people, as well as the opportunity cost for those same resources being applied to other projects.
- What are my security needs, and how will a new wireless network solution impact those needs?
As stated in our 2013 Wireless Network Solutions Buyers’ Guide, security must be a top priority. This includes both your business and the end users. So, how sensitive is the data you plan to be transmitting? Where are your vulnerable points to intrusion? Will current employee (or even executive-level) behaviors simply mean that your new wireless AC connection is merely a superhighway for criminals and nefarious government agencies into your networks? By answering these questions, which you should be doing anyway, you can plan for what technology and organizational changes you need to keep 802.11AC safe for your company.
- What are my support needs?
Do you have the IT resources available to deal with implementation and operation of the new network, including all the problems that will appear? Is it critical that those problems not appear, or merely inconvenient if they do? The answers to these questions should clarify how much support you will need from the vendor, either included in their offer or in addition to what they provide. Also keep in mind that even if you have a large IT department at your organization, few of those IT assets may actually be available to babysit implementation and operation. Don’t rule out vendor support options just because you have a large and sophisticated IT department. You’re welcome, overworked IT guys and gals.
Five Questions to Ask a Potential Solution Provider:
- What are the vendors’ implementation and post-implementation support offerings?
If you need support, and you probably will in some form, then lining up and comparing several vendors’ support offerings with what your specific support needs are should help you come to a purchasing decision. Because of the broadcast frequency and smaller number of channels available with 802.11ac capable access points, a key piece of support during implementation to look for is help in physically placing the 802.11ac access points within the environment they will be deployed, as poor deployment choices can ruin an 11ac network. A vendor with great in-house expertise consulting on this topic or with a referral to a 3rd party that can if the vendor can’t is worth your consideration.
- How will vendors work with my unique business needs and environment?
A great solution on paper may be terrible in reality if it can’t adapt to the local environment. Ask how the prospective wireless network solution will overcome the unique challenges of your environment such as old infrastructure and poorly suited architecture. Also, don’t shy away from consulting with an independent IT expert on the feasibility of vendor claims. Paying a little extra for expertise now can potentially save large amounts of money wasted on a failed implementation in the future. This is especially the case with 802.11ac wireless, because getting the network architecture wrong can have a disastrous impact on the performance of your new wireless network.
- What security features come with the offered solutions?
Because security is so important, understanding what security options the vendor offers, how those options integrate with the wireless network solution, and how they match up with your security vulnerabilities should be a top priority and key differentiating factor between different vendors. How does the wireless network interact with security approaches such as Identity and Access Management, network security and others?
- How easily will the vendor work with your organization and vice versa?
Learn more about your prospective vendor’s company culture, as well as the specific personalities that will have to work together in order to implement successfully and maintain smooth operation of the network. Poor communication and personality clashes can go a long way to sabotaging what would otherwise be a successful project. Also remember that responsibility in this area goes both ways, as it does in any partnership. Partnership potential can also be estimated based on the prospective vendor’s experience working with companies in your industry vertical, geographic location and size range.
- What’s the cost… for what they deliver?
A costly solution could be worth it if it delivers an even bigger ROI, and that low sticker price vendor C is offering may merely hide the huge implementation and support costs. Then again, it could be that vendor C really does offer the best solution for the best price. How to tell? Don’t just rely on the sticker price and vendor marketing, but dig a little deeper to find out about past implementation successes and failures, as well as what made them so. A company that is honest about challenges it confronted and how it overcame them definitely merits your consideration.