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Choosing a WLAN: A hospital’s story, Part 1

Feb 11, 20043 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* How do organizations select WLAN gear?

With so much riding on their decisions, healthcare organizations are usually very picky in their IT sections. Consider, for example, San Antonio Community Hospital in Upland, Calif. The hospital installed Trapeze Networks wireless LANs last fall largely as an aid to neurosurgery. The capability allows neurosurgeons to view a CAT scan with 156 images on a wireless PC sitting on a rolling cart to make sure they operate in just the right place. The hospital is using mostly 802.11a technology for this application.

The hospital also is considering outfitting nurses and doctors with Vocera wearable voice “badges” that allow mobile, hands-free VoIP over wireless over 802.11b/g channels.

Jan Snyder, the hospital’s senior telecommunications consultant, did the research and evaluations of many vendors’ products. He settled on start-up Trapeze Networks last fall, after careful evaluation of all the usual suspects – and then some – for what will eventually be a 400-access point installation.

He installed 50 APs and six switches in October 2003, then bought 70 more APs and two more switches in December 2003 when the products proved to be glitch-free, he says.

A former Symbol Technologies customer, Snyder initially leaned strongly toward transitioning from Symbol stand-alone access points to the newer Symbol Wireless Switch System with stripped-down APs.  However, though his supplier, DataVision-Prologix, tried for several months to get a quote for the system from Symbol, Snyder says, the company was unable to get one by last fall and gave up.

Symbol insists that its system is indeed shipping, and customers are using it. More on this later as the story unfolds.

So Snyder’s decision boiled down to Trapeze or Cisco-plus-Bluesocket as an overlay service for mobility and security. He shied away from Cisco because he chatted with Microsoft, which has a worldwide installation of Cisco APs, and said he learned that Microsoft has a staff of 60 to handle wireless support calls per day.

In fairness, the Microsoft installation was deployed in 2000, long before Cisco’s IOS-based APs were in existence and its new radio frequency management tools became available late last year. However, each potential customer must evaluate what’s available at the time, and Cisco’s RF tools were still in development when San Antonio Hospital was in shop-mode.

What were the main Trapeze strengths that drove Snyder’s decision?

Switch and power redundancy, troubleshooting and site survey tools, plus the ability to overlay virtual LANs on its existing Extreme Networks’ Layer 3-switched LANs. Also, the total cost of ownership of Trapeze, compared with using vendors on Snyder’s short list – Cisco, Nortel, Extreme, and Symbol’s older system – was about half with Trapeze over five-year period, Snyder says.