Airwave is a best of breed WLAN management vendor that is infrastructure vendor agnostic. They have a new white paper titled, 5 Things You Need to Know About Managing a Wireless Network in Healthcare. Let's go down the list, shall we?
- You cannot manage what you cannot see. The demanding nature of both users and applications requires rapid problem resolution. Airewave provides what they call “real-time network visibility” that shows all users, which access point (AP) they're associated with, and network performance. Data includes RF heatmaps, usage reports, detailed user roaming histories, and more.
- Your HIPAA compliance officer will require regular configuration audits of your Wi-Fi infrastructure. Well, maybe if IT tells them they should. While this is a shameless play to a health care specific need, what they describe is really useful – more useful in reality than their scary HIPAA compliance benefit. Airwave can apply enterprise wide configurations and security settings to all your APs, and continue to monitor those settings once they're set. The alternative here is getting out your ladder and visiting each and every AP yourself – or the poor guy you send off to do it.
- The most likely location for a rogue AP is far from your wireless sensors and existing APs. This one seems a bit weak. Most WLANs nowadays monitor for rogue APs and automatically keep them from associating with any wireless devices. I suppose there's some value here in having this integrated with the rest of your management capabilities, or if you had an old infrastructure that didn't support this.
- One network engineer can't manage a wireless LAN by himself. The point here is that their WLAN management console can be accessed by multiple users (e.g., the helpdesk) and remotely via the web interface. This is not earth shattering, but at least they appreciate how thin a lot of hospital IT shops can be.
- Your wireless network will only get larger and more diverse over time. They've got that right! As much as we try, we live in a heterogeneous world. Now is the time to get ahead of the curve.
That was a nice list of issues, given their perspective. I would add a few more things. Here are the Connectologist's 5 things you need to know.
- Quality of service (QoS). Many folks think of wireless VoIP at the mention of QoS – I think of wireless medical devices with continuous data streams and life threatening alarms. “What about WMTS for this,” you say? WMTS is presently used by some patient monitoring vendors. I am not aware of any IV pump, ventilator or point of care testing vendor who is contemplating WMTS over 802.11a/b/g. Medical devices will be on your network, and they will be life critical, and you must ensure their QoS.
- Roaming. Some health care users like discharge planners or social workers are “mobile” in that they go all over the hospital working in various places. Other users are truly mobile – they actually move while communicating with the network. Examples include patients on a smart pump or patient monitor who are ambulating or are taken down to radiology or some other department. These types of users will cross subnets and they will not take kindly to having to login in or reestablishing patient context every time they cross a subnet.
- Capacity. Everyone is mental for coverage, and rightly so. But just as important is capacity, the number of devices that must be supported within a confined area. In the not too distant future, every nurse and physician will have at least one wireless device they carry. Add to this computers on wheels (COWs), wireless medical devices and perhaps active RFID tags, and you've potentially got a lot of devices in one area. Imagine two acute patients in adjoining rooms and one codes – you could have 15 or 20 devices associating with one AP – what is that going to do to latency?
- Security. You need more than WEP. At one hospital I know, a team testing WEP cracked a rogue AP running WEP in 3 days (that included finding the rogue AP) – and that was using AirSnort and other publicly available tools. Oh, and don't expect device vendors with embedded radios to support proprietary security schemes (I'm thinking Cisco here).
- Site surveys. Different WLAN applications require different site surveys because of different performance requirements. Plan on doing site surveys a number of times as you add capabilities to your WLAN. Site survey tools help approximate coverage and provide a starting point for AP deployment, they are not the final answer – you are. Oh, and don't just take your vendor's recommendation and slap up a 150 milliwatt AP every 100 meters.
UPDATE: Okay, I admit it. I came up with a fifth item for my list so I'd have as many as Airwave…