Sometimes wireless just makes sense as an alternative to fibre. At least, that was true for one Western Australian local government with a hill located smack bang in the centre of town.
The City of Albany has five major sites – an administration centre, leisure centre, library, works depot and a visitors centre – along with a number of other smaller facilities that require connectivity.
For a while the City was able to connect each of these locations through unlicensed spectrum to the radio tower situated on the hill. But with the rise in wireless networking among the town's residents, dropouts and poor performance started to impact the user base.
“We are reasonably lucky where we are in Albany that there is a central… it’s called a mountain but it’s not really… a central hill. So we have a central location where everyone can get line of sight to and then come back to the main building,” City of Albany systems support officer, Andrew Heberle, explained.
“We didn’t have massive amounts of data going across the links. We were using unlicensed radio equipment; a mixture of 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz point to point. By necessity, as population density increased in Albany more people had wireless networks, more people had 5Ghz equipment and more got put on the main central mast.”
As a result, Albany had its file servers at the major branches and were decentralised as much as possible; the library also had its own Internet connection. In total the City has a little over 250 users on the network; the biggest group is the administration centre, which has 100 machines and also hosts the town's server farm.
With that set up, the City was getting 5-10Mbps data throughput between key locations. At those speeds, however, the decentralised setup and backups were a “big problem”, though centralising would have introduced another set of similar problems.
So they went about evaluating a solution and, unlike most businesses and councils, didn’t settle on fibre.
“We did do some costings on running our own fibre,” Heberle said. “I guess in a perfect world you would go fibre. But because we don’t have massive bandwidth requirements between the sites - it’s basically just Windows file sharing traffic and some Internet traffic. So having a 4Gbps connections on fibre, while great from a technical perspective, wasn’t something we needed.”
Instead, they went with an NEC Pasolink, which provided 100Mbps between branches, and only required some minor upgrades to the City’s HP ProCurve switching equipment.
“The model of Pasolink we put in has a 150Mbps modem and when we did the testing we were quite surprised because we got very close to the theoretical 150Mbps both ways which - having used other wireless solutions and through experience with home wireless setups - it was surprising,” Heberle said. “We did get what was advertised.”
Following its wireless rollout Albany then went through a consolidation process, virtualising with VMware and introducing two EMC Clarion arrays for back up and replication.
“The bulk of the use is IT only – backups, synchronisation,” Heberle said. “Probably the other largest thing is software deployments.”
With connectivity issues now “invisible” to the user base and the disaster recovery and backup processes sorted, Albany is now considering migrating to a VoIP telephony setup.