How To Sell A WLAN Rip-And-Replace
A VAR wins a $500,000 voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) install with a manufacturer by providing an RFID (radio frequency identification)-ready wireless infrastructure.
No customer wants to hear the dreaded phrase, "We're going to have to rip out your existing wireless infrastructure and replace it with new wireless access points [APs], routers, controllers, and switches to provide the wireless coverage you need." But, that's exactly the news network infrastructure VAR DRS LLC had to tell ASC Industries, a global manufacturer of automotive water pumps and industrial components. DRS was able to show its customer that making a $500,000 investment in its wireless infrastructure would pay off in the long run.
Begin A Wireless Solution With An RFID Question
ASC runs a 24/7 operation and ships products to customers all over the world. Constant communication among warehouse workers and managers is necessary to meet various deadlines, and wireless mobile computing devices play an important role. For example, a shop floor manager may need to get in touch with a forklift operator on the opposite side of the 280,000-square-foot warehouse. Walking across the warehouse floor isn't feasible, and using cordless phones/walkie-talkies poses too many interference issues, so WLAN-based data communication is necessary. "The problem was that the wireless network wasn't reliable," says David Wilkeson, COO of DRS. "On a weekly basis, one of the APs went down and everyone within the vicinity of the AP was unable to access the network."
After evaluating ASC's network and discovering problems with outdated wireless hardware and software, DRS determined a complete overhaul was in order. "Prior to recommending a solution, we asked the customer whether it had any plans to implement RFID in the future," recalls Wilkeson. "As it turned out, ASC was planning to roll out an RFID pilot test within the next 12 months and track assets at the pallet level."
DRS recommended a Cisco 4402 WLAN Controller, 21 Cisco 1242 Lightweight APs, a Cisco NAC (network admission control) Appliance, and 16 Cisco 7920 mobile VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phones. "This solution is controller-based, which means it can be managed from a central location," says Wilkeson. "Also, the controller has a presence management feature, which detects if one of the APs is overloaded with traffic or if it goes down. Additionally, the wireless controller can notify an IT person automatically and adjust the signal strength of other radios near the malfunctioning AP."
The Lightweight wireless solution also comes with a feature called Wireless Location Services, which works with third party applications such as CAD (computer-aided design) to create a real-time map of all client devices on the wireless network. "This information can be used to determine which warehouse worker is closest to a specific area, such as a loading dock, rather than making random calls," says Wilkeson.
Another benefit of the wireless solution is that it supports QoS (quality of service), making it viable for VoWLAN. Finally, the wireless infrastructure supports multiple wireless protocols and RFID.
ASC evaluated a couple of options before going with DRS' recommendation. "Our competitor tried selling a wireless solution based on a best-of-breed approach," recalls Wilkeson. "One of ASC's fears was that if it experienced a problem with its network, it would have to work with multiple vendors and put up with all sorts of finger-pointing before fixing the problem."
Keep Wireless Security Top Of Mind
DRS deployed the wireless solution during a 60-day period and sourced all of the hardware and software through value-added distributor Ingram Micro. Using the Cisco NAC appliance, the VAR set up multiple user groups and security policies. For example, if users try to log on to the network without having antivirus software installed on their laptops or PDAs, the controller denies them access to the network.
One of the biggest challenges, according to Wilkeson, was setting up the new WLAN while the old one was still running. "We spent about 20 hours on the site survey, making sure every AP was optimized for voice, and when it was time to turn on the new infrastructure, we did it in two phases," he says.
With the wireless network in place, the customer is able to communicate securely over the WLAN, and it no longer has the downtime issues it previously experienced. Since the install, DRS has used the customer as a reference, which led to two additional WLAN projects with two manufacturing companies, one of which is even larger than ASC.