A practical need for mobility has led a Michigan hospital group to replace its aging data-centric wireless LAN with a new network that supports multiple services across multiple sites.
Last year, the IT staff at Bronson Healthcare Group, in Kalamazoo, began evaluating WLAN gear that could provide reliable data access, voice support and asset tracking—all while meeting an April 2005 deadline for the latest HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) security requirements.
At the time, the not-for-profit organization was using legacy access points from Symbol Technologies Inc. on top of a WLAN base of equipment from Nortel Networks Ltd.
"Already we had a wireless LAN installed and functional in our environment, but it didnt provide all the functionality we needed," said Brett Mello, director of IT at Bronson.
Mello wanted a centrally managed, secure 802.11-based (Wi-Fi) WLAN that would work with the existing Nortel equipment and with the hospitals Wi-Fi phones from SpectraLink Corp.
Symbol offered a centralized WLAN system, and Nortel also offered its own gear. But the IT team at Bronson evaluated systems from their incumbent vendors as well as gear from Cisco Systems Inc., which is the market leader. Ultimately, the team chose a Wi-Fi switch system from Airespace Inc.
"The ease of usability in configuration was a key component," Mello said. "The management console was easier and more robust than any of the competitors that we looked at."
The staff knew that Airespace gear would work with Nortel wired gear. In fact, Nortel had an OEM partnership with Airespace. Still, Mello decided last fall to buy the WLAN gear from an independent reseller.
"One of the biggest decision aspects was immediate on-site support," Mello said. "There wasnt a local Nortel rep to handle the Airespace equipment, so we chose a vendor based in West Michigan who could provide on-site support if need be."
Bronson bought its Airespace gear from BCS Networks Inc., a Traverse City, Mich., reseller that has been selling Airespace equipment for a few years. Mello noted that he was looking for a reseller that would support the choice of gear, not one that would make the choice for him.
"We only refer to resellers for additional test equipment," Mello said. "We do our own research of products before we implement them. I dont think its a very good idea to let the vendor choose which products youre using."
BCS is a big proponent of Airespace WLANs, which hit the market a couple of years ago as an alternative to WLANs with individually managed access points. BCS officials are not fans of the old way of doing things.
"Everyone was basically doing the same thing, and it was ugly, but there were no other options," said Matt Hanna, vice president of technology at BCS. "It took me six or seven months evangelizing this new topology, but it was necessary. ... We sell Cisco. Any VAR on the planet sells Cisco. But once Airespace came out, they were our main [WLAN] solution."
"As soon as we brought on Airespace, we basically quit selling Proxim [Inc.] and Cisco in corporate or hospital settings; it didnt make sense," Hanna said. "We were preaching the conversion story. The nice thing about our company is we talk to customers about more than just data. Its always voice, data and RFID [radio-frequency identification] tagging."