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Our office is getting a serious make over and we are looking into updating our network infrastructure. My idea was to just update our current cat5e cables to cat6 but my boss (not an IT guy) doesn't want to use cables anymore, he wants to go fully wireless.

My first concern was of course the speed, we have an art department who needs to transfer large graphic files from and to the server.

My boss main reason to go wireless is because he is afraid in couple of years a new cable standard is coming out and he has to redo all the wires.

So now I'm looking for arguments to convince him to still go for wires. Speed, security, continuity, ... The top reason for him would of course be the cost.

Any advice?

It's a network for about 25 people.

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He's aware that decent wireless AP's, professional grade, not stuff from Staples, cost a lot of money to do properly...and that standards for wireless change every few years too, right? –  Bart Silverstrim May 23 '11 at 12:12
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Also, unless your wireless clients are fairly spread out, we've had...issues...with labs of laptops connecting 20 to 30 at a time. If you're transferring large amounts of data over the air, you're probably going to run into major performance issues as you overwhelm the AP. Contrary to what armchair home-network people think, doing wireless "properly" is hard in business setups with a number of clients involved. –  Bart Silverstrim May 23 '11 at 12:21
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IMHO the main questions that need to be answered are: Does your boss have pointy hair? Do you have a co-worker called Alice and an intern called Asok? Life imitating art? ;) –  Ardesco May 23 '11 at 15:45
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Why not just keep the cat5e cables you have at present? –  Ian Ringrose May 23 '11 at 15:45
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all the offices are getting restructured and where adding new ones so the cable has to be redone anyway for the most part. But doing everything via wire and set up a closed wireless network for use in conference rooms and such was just the way i would do it if it was up to me. I hope i can convince my boss, maybe i should show him in a field test, or just let him read all your comments... –  dazz May 23 '11 at 19:44

12 Answers 12

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Your boss is, imho, barking mad. For a start you still need to wire the building to provide a backbone for the wireless access points to connect to, and secondly wired connections are both more reliable and much faster than wireless.

As Julien suggests, these days you should probably look to do both anyway, and as xciter says, if you install modern cabling standards then these should have plenty of life in them - and more to the point, if your bosses theories about wired standards going out of date are true, then how does he propose to connect the wireless access points to the backbone if the standards change? And what happens when wireless standards go "out of date".

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I think we have the same boss, mine does this all the time when we setup regional offices :)

There are a couple good answers so far, 10GB is one, doing both wireless and wired is another. I'll throw in cost of getting wireless bridges for devices that aren't wireless like Voice over IP phones, Printer and Copier machines, etc. Another point is that you need a wire to do Power over Ethernet (POE), something that most VOIP implementations use.

What always ends up winning the argument in my case is the cost if he is wrong. If you're re-doing the entire office space, putting in Cat 6 now is going to be much less expensive compared to installing Cat 6 after the office space is already done. An electrician can usually wire up an office of 25 people in a day or two when everything is exposed. Compare that to the cost to come back later and retrofit network cables and it is going to cost a way more.

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Wireless declines in performance severely as a function of the number of clients connected. Also, you get 10-30x the speed over wire to begin with.

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Do both ? Wireless is nice when you want to take your computers into meetings. Gigabits wires transfers at 50MB/s, while wireless will never go faster than 50Mb/s...

I found it totally impossible to have a file server serving large photos (3MB avg.) over the wireless. Bring an access point, make a demo and that should convince your boss.

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You only get 50MB/s out of your Gbit links? Sad panda! ;-) –  Hyppy May 23 '11 at 12:28
    
Well, with jumbo frames activated, I managed to push it up to 75MB/s on my home network. But without good NICs, it's difficult to pass that limit. –  Julien Vehent May 23 '11 at 15:20
    
True, good NICs and jumbo frames really help. Our users usually get about the same on their workstations to be honest. –  Hyppy May 23 '11 at 15:23
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@Julien Vehent "wireless will never go faster than 50Mb/s." I'm not so sure about that, let's discuss this again in 2020... –  phihag May 23 '11 at 19:24
    
Hmm.. I get 110MB/s+ transfers over my Gigabit and I don't use Jumbo Frames or anything like that -- just a cheapo consumer switch and integrated motherboard NICs. Sounds like something else is going on here. –  Billy ONeal May 24 '11 at 2:56

I'm just repeating what other people have said, but point out to your boss that there have been more changes in wireless Ethernet standards (802.11 a -> b -> g -> n http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.11#Protocols ) in recent years than there have in wired Ethernet 100Mb/s -> 1Gb/s (10Gb/s coming to the desktop in the future), and that the wiring you install now will support the coming future wired standard.

Perhaps your boss is speaking only from experience of a home wireless connection with 2 or 3 clients. You need to make him understand that setting up a reliable, performant, 'enterprise class' WLAN require much more work than simply bunging in a few access points.

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I think your top arguments must be speed and security. If you go cat6, there is room to grow up to 10gbits. For an enterprise implementation of the wireless network, you will probably need to set up a radius wireless server.

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If your boss isn't an IT guy, then you may be able to get his attention more by focusing on business risks. There are two big ones that your boss will need to consider if you're all wireless and...

You accept credit cards for payment

Congratulations! You're under PCI-DSS regulations from the credit card providers. There's a bunch of work that you will need to do satisfy the auditors that your card information is safe in a wireless environment.

You have health care information

Congratulations! You fall under HIPAA. I'm less familiar with this since my office is not in health care, but I do know you will have additional work to get auditors to sign off that your wireless is secure.

Even if you manage to meet the technical requirements, these business rules will likely drive your wireless off of your internal network. So you're going to end up either running a VPN from the wireless to get internal access, or you'll have to make all of your resources and apps run from a browser. And I'm not even touching on whether your boss would mind if someone could access something confidential to you. At least in a small office, someone would (hopefully!) notice if a random PC was plugged into your network.

To directly address his concern that cables are going to change, you should tally up how long Cat5e has been viable while wireless has gone form 802.11 b to g to n, with the a standard a bonus tech cul-de-sac. ;) Tally up the costs, and I think you'll find yourself way ahead with a wired backbone.

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Art department files tend to be rather large. We have a limit of 50MB per email just to accommodate the art department and sometimes even that presents problems. While 50MB may not be huge, that would be for a single image and of course a typical document will consist of a number of images, possible even hundreds. Clearly, this would make wireless far too slow.

We use 1Gb cable throughout but have wireless for the occasional laptop or iPad user who needs access but isn't going to be transferring significant data. I suggest you do likewise.

As politely as possible, tell your boss he needs to stick to his own area of expertise and leave you to do your job properly.

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Why not do both? Wireless is excellent for mobility, but the trade off is that you cut your throughput in half, and you share the bandwidth with everyone (wireless is, by design, a half-duplex technology, and has similar possibilities of collisions like hubs did - sort of). The best approach would be to set up a wireless subnet to get the freedom it provides, and keep the wired network too.

Is there any reason to upgrade to cat6 in the first place? If you're still using 100Mbps equipment, you're not going to see any speed boost from switching from cat5. Yes, cat6 gives you the ability to go up to 10Gbps, but if you don't see your company shelling out the cash for that equipment any time soon you're preparing for something that may not ever be needed. Especially considering now there is equipment that can operate at Tbps speeds, new cabling standards will come out - so your boss is technically correct. I'd wait to upgrade the cabling until you have equipment that can make use of it. If you have some 10Gbps switches waiting in the wing, then by all means upgrade the cabling.

EDIT: I just noticed I put down Tbps speeds, and that's wrong. I believe the current working groups are for 40Gbps and 100Gbps. My bad.

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Indeed, both is the way to go. Your Cat5e cabling is usually enough for Gigabit speeds, if it isn't, then it is quite likely that the problem is in the wall jacks, not in the cable itself, and a good cabling contractor can sort this out.

For 10/100 Gbps, you simply do not want copper, so if your graphics people need that kind of transfer speed, go fiber, and also invest in a half-decent storage solution.

As a wise sysadmin once put it: There is no point in running a 2m diameter sewage pipe to a single-family home, they will never be able to use the bandwidth.

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lol, i will certainly try :) –  Matt May 23 '11 at 19:46
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You may laugh, but I know a smallish graphics shop who are running one of these, and disk access is still the bottleneck (network is 10 Gbps fiber to selected workstations, and 1Gbps copper to each box in the render farm). –  Simon Richter May 23 '11 at 21:40
    
If your typical workload involves transferring large files to and from the server, then the first thing I'd check is whether the server has a proper RAID solution, with a functioning battery backup unit (BBU) and enough memory to delay writing entire files until no reads are pending -- this will give you a huge performance boost for about $1000. –  Simon Richter May 23 '11 at 21:47
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One last thing: any new wires should be laid inside pipes of sufficient diameter. This way, a technology switch can be achieved by duct taping the new cable to the end of the old one and then pulling on the other side. This is actually how we replaced Cheapernet with Cat5. –  Simon Richter May 23 '11 at 21:53

I agree totally with the other professionals here, but there is also one last issue: Sometimes connections to WAP's are flaky and affected by your surroundings. You will spend more time helping people reconnect, whereas if you have DHCP, any idiot can plug in a cable, and it almost never goes down barring a hardware failure.

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The question is, what is important to you?

  • If availability is critical you must go wired. Wireless is susceptible to interference, both malicious and accidental.
  • If high security is important you probably should use a wired network - it's just too easy for others to see data on a wireless network (of course, running a secure VLAN helps, at the expense of bandwidth)
  • If flexibility is key, a wireless network will win.
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Yeah. You are SO flexible when suddenly you need to back up the whole network with wired. Whenever you do not need wireless (as in: NO WIRES), wired wins. –  TomTom Jan 6 '13 at 19:16

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