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Apple shop maxes out Airport access points, upgrades to 802.11ac

Growing mobility at Rock Paper Scissors required wall-to-wall coverage, and lots of bandwidth

By , Network World
February 18, 2014 06:30 AM ET

Network World - You just want Wi-Fi connectivity to work. So you plug in an Apple Airport Express access point and then you and your coworkers go to town on your MacBook Pros. You plug in another one. And another one.

Until one day, the setup just doesn’t work.

Kia hamsters
When its Apple Airport Express Aps bogged down, Rock Paper Scissors turned to a controller-based wireless LAN architecture. The company does video editing and other services for companies like automaker KIA, whose hamster "spokesmen" are shown.

One solution is to turn to a controller-based WLAN architecture, opt for new 802.11ac access points, and set up “wall to wall” office coverage that’s consistently reliable and consistently high performing. That’s the route taken by Rock Paper Scissors (RPS), a well-known commercial editorial company in Santa Monica, with a second office in New York City. The company does video editing and effects for a wide range of TV and web advertisements and other content. Among their editing work: Korean automaker KIA, which gave its “hamsters” a makeover for the updated KIA Soul 2014. 

RPS has been an Apple “shop” for years, though that term implies a more complex infrastructure than was actually the case. In practice, it means that about 130 full-time employees typically worked with MacBook Pro notebooks, iPhones and some iPads. The heavy-duty editing was, and still is, done via wire: 1- or even 10-gig connections from a desk to the 10-gig corporate backbone. “We can’t do visual effects or editing over wireless,” says Kevin Bass, RPS’ chief engineer, in effect the CTO.

But there was plenty of demand for Wi-Fi connectivity. Editors and production assistants were constantly moving among offices and conference rooms, working together, reviewing progress and meeting with clients. To satisfy this increasing mobile workspace, the company relied on Apple’s simple-to-install and manage Airport Express 802.11n access points. The white square boxes are about the size of your hand, plug in quickly, and configure easily via the setup assistant built into iOS or the AirPort Utility in OS X. Scaling was deceptively easy: just plug in another Airport.

“We just added Airports to give our [visiting] clients connectivity and for our production assistants,” Bass says. “But we greatly outgrew those.” Clients visit often, with their own wireless notebooks and phones to check on editing progress. Production assistants are moving among conference rooms and offices, uploading and downloading files of 100GB to show the latest video progress.

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“As people roamed, some clients were having trouble connecting,” Bass recalls. “Usually that meant they were not able to get on, because there were too many clients on one access point or they were just having a horrible time with [low] speeds. Rebooting the access point, and hoping the complaints would stop, was about the only solution we had.” Demand and traffic were growing, but Bass, his two-man IT staff in California, and one-man staff in NYC, had very little visibility into what was actually happening on the wireless network, and few tools to optimize performance.

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