'Sharks' circle as wireless wave builds

Wi-Fi may be storming the enterprise but integration partners need careful scrutiny because there are a lot of sharks out there touting services, according to IT managers with wireless networks.

In some cases IT managers should go it alone to sidestep the mavericks riddling the industry.

This is the view of Shane Wharton, IT infrastructure manager at The Diocese of Parramatta Catholic Education Office, who recently completed a pilot project which involved deploying one Wi-Fi access point into the staff rooms of 80 schools with plans to develop an out-of-the-box standard the schools can use to then extend the network.

Although happy with the outcome of the pilot, Wharton was less than impressed with the level of wireless expertise shown by two of the three companies pitching for his business.

"We put out a simple RFP asking 'what scenario would you give us?'," Wharton said. "Two [proposals] were so nebulous we told them to go back." Wharton said the problems centred on both companies' approach to the diocese's requirements.

"With the security framework, one company wanted to keep their solution secret," he said. "I think the other company was trying to gouge us for money by preparing a document wrapped up in mumbo jumbo."

Wharton believes there are a lot of sharks in the industry offering wireless implementation services but few know how to offer - or price - it appropriately.

"[Devise] an implementation plan that is right for you and you need to know what you want," he said. "Suppliers will sell you what they want to sell you and not what you need."

Wharton also advises taking the time to make a decision about who you want to work with.

"Pick a level of service you need and don't over-engineer it for your situation," he said. "Also, get a site audit done. We got a huge price range for the site audit and one company wanted $3500 just for an audit."

Despite all the difficulties in dealing with suppliers, Wharton said the project was completed in just six weeks without any hiccups. The implementation uses Cisco devices with LEAP for security as the standard access points which are delivered pre-configured for the network.

"The project provided a standard hardware environment, support, a system-wide security framework, and central management," he said. "For example, teachers that travel between schools can use the same network."

Canberra Girls Grammar School ICT manager Al Blake agrees the industry is "full of" wireless mavericks and puts it down to a "land grab" by integrators. "I could call 20 integrators now and have them tell me that they all offer wireless solutions," Blake said. "They feel they have to make the offer for competitive reasons even though they don't have the wireless skills or expertise."

Blake, who oversees one of the largest Wi-Fi sites in the country with some 47 access points, advises end users not to be shy about doing it themselves.

"You know your network better than anyone," he said, adding that most of the school's roll out was pulled back in-house because what may have taken the integrator three weeks could be done in half a day by IT.

Blake said that, as with any emerging technology, there will be price gouging on the wireless wave, but IT managers have to know the technology to ensure they are not getting ripped off.

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