When something went wrong with the wireless access points (AP) at Thomas Moore High School Academy in Delaware, Matthew Zink would have to leave in the middle of teaching a class to fix the problem. Zink is the school’s network administrator but also teaches subjects such as government, and computer applications and programming.

Understandably Zink wasn't happy about these mid-class interruptions. "Parents and visitors come to our school," he said. Seeing a teacher out of his classroom doing something that should be done by somebody else "is not a feature we want to promote."

But like it or not Zink had little option but to try and rectify the problem immediately. After all, the school’s 185 students from years nine to 12 and their teachers use the wireless network extensively, and have been doing so for about five years. (The school has approximately 20 3Com Access Point 8750s.)

Now Zink's mid-class excursions are no more than an unpleasant memory, as the school has acquired a centralised system that has dramatically simplified the process of configuring and managing its APs.

It all came together when the school decided to build an addition to link its classroom building and gymnasium. 3Com, which provided the school with its previous wireless network infrastructure, introduced a new low-cost wireless LAN switch to connect these facilities.

The 3Com WXR100 Remote Office Wireless LAN switch joins the WX4400 and WX1200 as part of 3Com’s wireless switch portfolio for enterprise and small and medium size businesses.

“Our customers were looking for something that wasn’t as dense as the WXR1200 offering, but could still connect to a smaller branch,” said Howard Rubin, product marketing manager for wireless at 3Com. In addition the WLAN switch, 3Com introduced the 3Com WLAN managed AP 3750.

“It is nice because most of what is available today is overkill for what a branch or remote office would need,” said Aaron Vance, senior analyst with Synergy Research, of the new 3Com wireless switch. “It is going to be something popular going forward given the popularity of wireless and the new trend [towards] more centralised architectures.”

Fat vs thin
With a fat AP, all of the technology, such as encryption, radio frequency management, security and auto authentication, is consolidated on one antennae sitting on the wall. But with centralised management, Rubin said, all of that sits on the switch, which lowers the cost of acquiring more access points.

“Instead of going out to each individual fat AP and configuring it, the users can access control lists and encryption codes in one location,” said Rubin.

The WXR100 has one port for an Ethernet connection to the local network in a remote branch. The second port supports a direct connection to an AP that provides power over Ethernet.

The new switch can support up to three APs but Rubin said enterprises can connect several switches together or scale it with the WX4400 and 1200 to support an unlimited number of APs.

Zink has been using the WXR100 and two of the AP 3750s in his school’s remote building since September of this year but at first he was unsure he needed to get them.

“The older APs were suiting us just fine but when these new ones came along there wasn’t really anything that was a glowing problem that we needed to upgrade,” said Zink.

So the selling point for the new systems was the centralised management aspect. In the past Zink had to go to each AP and climb a ladder to resolve problems.

The WXR100 comes with a wireless switch management software application. The software lets users import the layout of the building in order to determine optimal placement of APs to prevent signal degradation and improve security.