Monday, August 15, 2011

How to Set Up a World-Class Wireless Mesh Network No Matter Where You Are

What can any company with remote data access needs learn from a gold mine in the far north in Alaska? Apparently quite a bit. In this case study, MicroAge found an out-of-the-box solution for an in-the-middle-of-nowhere company that wanted to make sure its workforce of miners could stay connected with each other and their families.
Alaska…We Have a Problem
My name is Hunter Boyd and I am an IT solutions expert at MicroAge. When I first spoke to the IT director of a large mining operation in the Alaskan wilderness he had a problem. His current Wi-Fi network wasn’t cutting it. He was trying to use a consumer-grade access point system and the demands of the frontier were pushing it beyond its capacity. Frustration was high because of spotty coverage and software that was a management nightmare. There had to be a better way to provide reliable Wi-Fi access to the miners, engineers and technicians who were working week-long shifts with little to no connection to the outside world. Their Wi-Fi network was their lifeline.
Imagine working over 20 miles from the nearest town, in a mining camp tucked deep inside the crevice of a canyon. This location was so remote the company had to first build a road before mining could begin.
There were issues with terrain, distance, maintenance and reliability. In this rocky environment with steep slopes that could interfere with wireless signals and huge distances between the cabins and the mine, this solution needed to work 100% of the time without full-time IT support on site. It was a matter of safety and emergency preparedness as well as worker morale. The company was adamant about providing the best connectivity possible, and the existing Ethernet drops in the cabins were falling short. Users couldn’t stray far from their assigned hub without losing their connections. Adding to the existing network required buying and installing additional controllers which was even more complicated, time consuming and costly.
Problem Solved Thanks to Aerohive
After we discussed the client’s needs in detail, I begin researching options that could get the job done. I developed a Wi-Fi solution from Aerohive that provides a controller-less access point network architecture. Aerohive’s technology pushes the intelligence of the controller to the access points. The access points create a meshing system—like a beehive. They talk to each other and if one access point goes down, the others reconfigure themselves to pick up the slack. With this system there’s no single point of failure.

Together, we went over the client’s environment, existing technology—and its limitations—along with their current operation and plans for expansion. The client liked Aerohive’s simplicity of installation and its low-maintenance architecture, as well as its cost-effectiveness and the improved reliability that comes from a system that doesn’t need controllers.
Eureka! Happy Campers
Installing the Aerohive network was easy. The company shipped over 30 access points to the mine location, one for each dorm. After less than two hours of over-the-phone instruction, the network was completely up and running. Workers are now able to roam from dorm to dorm maintaining their connectivity.

Aerohive’s cloud-based remote management has been another bonus for the mine’s IT director. Because he works as the miners do—on duty for several weeks and then off for a period of time—his ability to manage the network from his home during his off-shift periods certainly reduces his stress level.

The unique “self-healing” technology contained in Aerohive’s access points ensures network survivability and accessibility.
Each point talks to the others to determine the best path for data to flow. If one goes down, the others pick up, acting as little routers. This is why mission-critical environments use this solution. There’s no such thing as a single point of failure.
The ability to quickly add access points is a critical feature for any environment where additional bandwidth needs arise suddenly. In the case of the mine, should an accident occur, access points could be added quickly to accommodate emergency workers’ base of operations. No other management is required. And adding access points is all that’s required when it’s time to expand operations and add more dorms to cover more area.

The client is thrilled with the Aerohive solution provided by MicroAge. The mine workers are enjoying reliable, roam-friendly Wi-Fi, and the IT director has been able to save time and money, not to mention alleviate the headaches and stress caused by the previous technology.

This kind of cost-effective solution is great for large installations and broad deployments, including healthcare, education, manufacturing, distribution, retail and other enterprise organizations. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about this solution or to discuss a different IT issue. Helping companies solve their IT issues is what I do. Visit and let us know how we can help.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

InFocus is the Clear Choice for Nationwide Classroom A/V Overhaul

What could a national educational organization do when it found itself in the midst of failing technology? Imagine being in charge of a hybrid family of schools and colleges, comprising more than 300 physical and virtual classrooms across the U.S.—each one completely dependent on audio/visual technology. Any breakdowns could be devastating. Picture it. A/V systems shutting down in the middle of important classroom sessions could mean loss of valuable class hours and delays in overall course schedule. This was what this institution was encountering on an all-too-frequent basis. Caught in this chaos, our client wanted a quick and lasting solution.
Frustration Leads to a Solution
Frustrated by frequent product breakdowns and less-than-stellar customer service with their current IT providers, they contacted MicroAge. They were desperate for an IT solution provider who would understand their needs and recommend the technology that would provide the organization and the students they served with a fast and reliable solution. Their current approach was to replace the technology as it broke down. But that was proving to be time-consuming and costly. They were ready to scrap the entire A/V system nationwide and replace it all at once with more reliable technology. And by getting all equipment on the same life cycle, managing it would be much easier.

After we conducted an intensive review of the school’s needs, which included projectors, screens, audio and cabling, as well as the installation of all of it, Ken and I got busy doing what we do best at MicroAge—finding an outstanding IT solution for our clients. We worked out a plan, scrapped it, worked a little harder and ultimately arrived at a terrific solution. Our client not only liked what they saw, but they appreciated our complete solution approach versus the product-oriented slant that they’d experienced with other IT providers. They not only approved the plan we recommended, but welcomed it with a sigh of relief.

The MicroAge Solution
At MicroAge, we don’t push the “supplier of the week” to our clients. Instead we listen to our clients’ needs and design a solution with the right products from manufacturers that will deliver the best outcome and stay within budget. It’s one of the many ways we are different from other companies that say they provide IT solutions. What they really do is sell IT equipment.

We contacted not one but numerous manufacturers and shared the project requirements with them. Many showed interest in taking on the project, but one really stood out in terms of meeting the exact specifications the school had, which, besides reliability, included a high-lumen output and a wide-screen option. The winner hands down was InFocus. Their IN3116 projector met the requirements and the client’s budget better than any other manufacturer.

Besides InFocus, the A/V overhaul solution included AccuScreens screens, Sony speakers, Roemtech
amplifiers and a fair amount of cabling.

Achieving A+ Results
Our solution did not end with providing the right A/V equipment. There was still the matter of providing a financing plan for this client and getting the equipment installed. Performing the role of project manager, Ken and I managed the delivery and installation at each of the 300+ classrooms, and, working as a team, got the job done on time and on budget.

As for financing, for this client leasing made the most sense, so we arranged a three-year lease through HP Financial Services to leverage their buying power and fit their budget. Leasing and financing IT purchases is another of the services we offer at MicroAge.

After just a few months time, the results spoke for themselves. This project was a huge success. Our client, relieved at the convenience and reliability of the solution and thrilled with the work done, gave us our next project: MicroAge is now overhauling the enterprise’s network and replacing the switches in the data center. Again, having done our homework, we concluded that HP had the best to offer for this project.

Lessons Learned
Before calling MicroAge, our client had worked with several other IT resellers and contractors. Now, though, they look to Ken Katz and me for all their IT needs. Great IT solutions are what Ken and I, along with all of the account executives here at MicroAge, love to provide our clients. If you’re looking for promising IT solutions too, save yourself a lot of time—contact us, Josh Heller and Ken Katz at MicroAge.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Critical Load Balancing Management Solution for E-Commerce Website

A young entrepreneur who had begun his business in his mid-teens, contacted me with an urgent need: Help him find a load balancing management system that would keep his e-commerce hosting business from crashing on high-traffic days.

The e-commerce hosting business, which started a decade earlier in the founder’s garage, hosts hundreds of e-commerce sites. It had grown so large that they worried about a complete system failure on high-traffic days. They had teetered on that possibility during mega-shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday the prior year. They just couldn’t risk it again—if my client went down, so would all of their clients.

The client had already contacted one of the major manufacturers in the load balancing management arena, but that manufacturer was not able to meet the challenge. In fact, the other supplier had pulled their demo units and gave up. That’s when he called me and I got to work.
I interviewed the client to understand specific needs and requirements, challenges they were facing with their existing technology, as well as the problems that the other manufacturer had experienced with their demo units. I asked a lot of questions about the business itself and their plans for growth. Then I did my research. I found that F5 Networks, the global leader in Application Delivery Networking, appeared to have the right technology to keep this hosting business up during heavy traffic periods. F5 Networks is recommended by Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and SAP. They are used by every one of the top six U.S. airlines, which experience high traffic volumes on their e-commerce Websites. Obviously, they could handle load balancing for any mission-critical enterprise.

We put together a team of engineers from F5 Networks, the client’s IT staff and MicroAge. We brought in demo equipment and worked through the challenges involved in optimizing a network of some 20,000 e-commerce Web sites. Even for the F5 engineers, this project was difficult, but after a few months we had a complete solution for the client built on the F5 Networks BIG IP 6900 platform. The BIG-IP 6900 platform increases application performance and allows custom payload inspection and transformation capabilities.

This solution worked beautifully, just as it was designed. Black Friday came and went—as did Cyber Monday—without an incident. I felt great because my client was able to enjoy a happy—and successful—holiday season, free from the fear and worry over a whole system failure. And by not suffering downtime their reputation for reliability skyrocketed with his clients. Some of his competitors weren’t so lucky. This was one of those everybody-wins situations that makes me love what I do. If you have questions on this particular solution, or need help with any other IT challenge, please us at

WAN Bandwidth Optimization for Nationwide Construction Company

Any company with offices and operations nationwide has a critical need for reliable file accessibility. Users in remote locations must to be able to quickly access the files they need—even when those files are housed on a server thousands of miles away. Bandwidth can become a debilitating issue when the company is a large commercial and government construction contractor dealing with enormous files containing specs and drawings. This was the case when the head of data center operations at this construction company called MicroAge.

When I spoke to this client he had been receiving complaints from his wide area network users in the company’s offices and worksites across the country. Employees and contractors were losing productivity because of the long waits to download files stored at their headquarters. He needed a solution to optimize the organization’s WAN.

I spoke to the client at length to fully understand his requirements. The company has more than 2,000 employees, 20-plus offices across the country and numerous worksites at any given time. The solution must be able to handle the massive files that are part of any heavy construction operation and bring them to the user’s computer—and fast.

After gaining an understanding of the capacities and demands any new solution would have to handle, I began my research. I looked at several possible solutions and I decided Silver Peak Systems would provide the best performance for this client.
Silver Peak has a unique method for optimizing traffic that makes it superior to its competitors. Their NX appliances sit between network resources and the WAN infrastructure that is used to connect them to remote users. Deployment of NX appliances requires absolutely no client, server, or application reconfiguration. NX appliances use Silver Peak’s patent-pending Network Memory™ technology to significantly reduce the amount of data traversing the WAN and ensure LAN-like application performance.

I presented my findings and recommendation to the client. He was impressed with the capabilities and ease of use of the Silver Peak solution so I arranged for demo units to be delivered. The Silver Peak NX-8600 WAN Optimization Appliance in the data center and the NX-5700 at the most distant location. What better way to test this new bandwidth optimization appliance than to have the office on one coast try accessing files from the data center on the other coast?
The results were nothing short of remarkable. Users immediately saw significant improvements in file access speed. So much so that the data center manager is now considering rolling out the Silver Peak NX solution to all of the company’s locations.

Faster file access speed and the resulting increase in productivity were not the only benefits MicroAge and Silver Peak provided this client. The data center manager has reported that he has been able to lower the amount of bandwidth they lease from their Internet service provider, resulting in a cost savings that will pay for the Silver Peak installation in less than a year. Needless to say, he is delighted with the results.

This is just one of the many solutions that MicroAge has been able to provide this client. Please contact me to see what I can for you