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How to Set Up a World-Class Wireless Mesh Network No Matter Where You Are

What can any company with remote data access needs learn from a gold mine in the far north in Alaska? Apparently quite a bit. In this case study, MicroAge found an out-of-the-box solution for an in-the-middle-of-nowhere company that wanted to make sure its workforce of miners could stay connected with each other and their families.

Alaska…We Have a Problem

When I first spoke to the IT director of a large mining operation in the Alaskan wilderness he had a problem. His current Wi-Fi network wasn’t cutting it for his BYOD environment. He was trying to use a consumer-grade access point system and the demands of the frontier were pushing it beyond its capacity. Frustration was high because of spotty coverage and software that was a management nightmare. There had to be a better way to provide reliable Wi-Fi access to the miners, engineers and technicians who were working week-long shifts with little to no connection to the outside world. Their Wi-Fi network was their lifeline.

Imagine working over 20 miles from the nearest town, in a mining camp tucked deep inside the crevice of a canyon. This location was so remote the company had to first build a road before mining could begin.

There were issues with terrain, distance, maintenance and reliability. In this rocky environment with steep slopes that could interfere with wireless signals and huge distances between the cabins and the mine, this solution needed to work 100% of the time without full-time IT support on site. It was a matter of safety and emergency preparedness as well as worker morale. The company was adamant about providing the best connectivity possible, and the existing Ethernet drops in the cabins were falling short. Users couldn’t stray far from their assigned hub without losing their connections. Adding to the existing network required buying and installing additional controllers which was even more complicated, time consuming and costly.

Problem Solved Thanks to Aerohive

After we discussed the client’s needs in detail, I begin researching options that could get the job done. I developed a Wi-Fi solution from Aerohive Networks that provides a controller-less access point network architecture. Aerohive’s technology pushes the intelligence of the controller to the access points. The access points create a meshing system—like a beehive. They talk to each other and if one access point goes down, the others reconfigure themselves to pick up the slack. With this system there’s no single point of failure.

Together, we went over the client’s environment, existing technology—and its limitations—along with their current operation and plans for expansion. The client liked Aerohive’s simplicity of installation and its low-maintenance architecture, as well as its cost-effectiveness and the improved reliability that comes from a system that doesn’t need controllers.

Eureka! Happy Campers

Installing the Aerohive network was easy. The company shipped over 30 access points to the mine location, one for each dorm. After less than two hours of over-the-phone instruction, the network was completely up and running. Workers are now able to roam from dorm to dorm maintaining their connectivity.

Aerohive’s cloud-based remote management has been another bonus for the mine’s IT director. Because he works as the miners do—on duty for several weeks and then off for a period of time—his ability to manage the network from his home during his off-shift periods certainly reduces his stress level.

The unique “self-healing” technology contained in Aerohive’s access points ensures network survivability and accessibility.

Each point talks to the others to determine the best path for data to flow.  If one goes down, the others pick up, acting as little routers. This is why mission-critical environments use this solution.  There’s no such thing as a single point of failure.

The ability to quickly add access points is a critical feature for any environment where additional bandwidth needs arise suddenly. In the case of the mine, should an accident occur, access points could be added quickly to accommodate emergency workers’ base of operations. No other management is required. And adding access points is all that’s required when it’s time to expand operations and add more dorms to cover more area.

The client is thrilled with the Aerohive solution provided by MicroAge. The mine workers are enjoying reliable, roam-friendly Wi-Fi, and the IT director has been able to save time and money, not to mention alleviate the headaches and stress caused by the previous technology.

This kind of cost-effective solution is great for large installations and broad deployments, including health care, education, manufacturing, distribution, retail and other enterprise organizations.

Please contact me if you would like to learn more about this solution or to discuss a different IT issue. Helping companies solve their IT issues is what I do. Reach me directly at 480-366-2054 or hunter.boyd@microage.com.

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Hunter Boyd
14 Years Experience
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