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By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 29 June, 2011

Companies will need to optimise their internal networks if they want to benefit from the increased bandwidth capacity that will become available as a result of all the broadband infrastructure that is being built. “A lot of company networks are old and need upgrading,” says Mark van Vuuren, MD of TeleSciences.

If this is not done the bottleneck will move to the local area network. “It is no good having a 100 megabit per second connection to an ISP if the LAN is inefficient,” he says.

This will become increasingly important as companies opt to use cloud services, such as having applications hosted by a service provider. It will also be difficult to implement video conferencing if the internal network is inefficient, says van Vuuren.

He says with the growing demand for employees to work from anywhere, companies also need to ensure they can accommodate this without compromising the security of the corporate network. “Traditional wired LANs also need to morph into wireless LANs, so users can move around with their mobile devices and stay connected.”

Van Vuuren says 80% of large companies are still predominantly running wired networks, with perhaps a few wireless access points in the boardroom, canteen, reception, and other common areas. Some of the other 20%, and many smaller companies, are running completely wireless networks.

“Wi-Fi networks now provide the speed and efficiency to do this,” says van Vuuren. He says the problem with fixed networks is that when offices are reorganised and employees move around network access points are left vacant and new ones are installed.

Companies should do an audit of the access points and cabling that is no longer being used and clean them up, says van Vuuren. “Access points that are not in use, but are connected to a network switch still draw power.”

He says the latest network switches will power down when not in use. An audit of the network and user behaviour will enable companies to decide on the mix of wired and wireless network infrastructure they should have.

Policies and procedures will need to be implemented to ensure that any wireless networks that are installed cannot be accessed by unauthorised users. Companies will also need to ensure that users can remain connected to the network as they move between access points, says van Vuuren.

This can be a problem with access points that are old or are based on different standards. “The latest access points cater for handover as users move around,” he says.

Alternatively management systems are available that cater for all standards and address this problem. Technology tools are also available that will load balance the network traffic to ensure the best performance and will reroute traffic if an access point goes down, says van Vuuren.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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