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Managing a Hospital's Growing WLAN Infrastructure
Managing a Hospital's Growing WLAN Infrastructure

Saint Agnes Medical Center uses a solution from Wavelink to manage all of the wireless equipment on its network from one location, optimizing security, increasing productivity, and maximizing patient care.

Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, California, is undergoing the largest expansion in its history. The 330-bed hospital, listed among the top 100 cardiovascular hospitals in America (1999, 2001) and a seven-time winner of National Research Corporation's Consumer Choice Award, is nearly doubling in size. The expansion includes a new home for the Saint Agnes Heart and Vascular Center, an emergency department double its current size, and more than 100 additional private patient rooms.

To bring health-care information directly to each of those bedsides, Saint Agnes's IT staff will extend a WLAN infrastructure that has proved its value over the past six years as it has grown to serve a variety of applications throughout the medical center campus. Saint Agnes uses Wavelink Mobile Manager and Avalanche to manage all the wireless devices on its rapidly evolving network.

"Doctors and nurses wanted to move the critical health-care information closer to the bedside – closer to the point of care," says David Horsham, senior manager of network services for the hospital. "Initially, Saint Agnes saw this technology as a way to improve patient care by ensuring that the right patient gets the right dose of the right medication at the right time."

The hospital uses McKesson's Acuscan-RX application with wireless Pocket PCs from Symbol to ensure that proper medication protocols are followed. "The handheld devices we're using have barcode scanners. We scan the barcode from the patient's wristband. Then we scan the medication, and the system confirms that the medications are dispensed properly," says Horsham.

Back in 1997, Saint Agnes was an early adopter of wireless LAN technology when it started using Compaq laptops with wireless cards and access points from Proxim in the emergency department to provide more flexible, mobile access to the hospital network for patient records, charts, and lab results. "It gives caregivers access to the information they need when and where they need it," says Horsham.

Today Saint Agnes uses wireless cards and access points from Cisco throughout its network, with Symbol PDAs, Compaq laptops, and Toshiba pen tablets. The hospital network covers six buildings with wireless access currently provided in the main hospital (41 access points across six floors with over 100 PDAs), the emergency department (3 access points with 8 Compaq laptops), the Cancer Center (6 access points with 15 Toshiba pen tablets) and the Administrative Plaza (currently 2 access points in 2 conference rooms for staff training).

"We'll easily grow to over 100 access points within the next two years," says Horsham. "In addition to the new Heart and Vascular Center, we expect to expand wireless coverage into our operating rooms, recovery rooms, and preoperative holding area."

Central Administration Is Essential
"When we started rolling out the additional access points we recognized that we needed some way of managing all these devices in our secure environment," says Horsham. "One of the ways we accomplish that is through MAC address authentication. The MAC address is the unique identifier of each device on the network. If that MAC address is not in our list of authorized devices, the device is not allowed on the network. So the challenge became how to manage that type of infrastructure."

"Whenever we add a new laptop, we have to update every access point with the new laptop's MAC address," Horsham explains. "Instead of having to Telnet to every single access point, we can use Wavelink management software to push the information from our central console on the fly. It would probably have taken us eight hours or more to update those access points individually. Now we can do it in minutes.

"Because we add, change, and remove mobile devices on the network all the time, we need to be able to update those MAC address lists very frequently. Central administration is the key to controlling costs in managing the growing network infrastructure we have," says Horsham. "We get a huge return on investment from the ability to centrally manage the wireless network. Once you deploy the devices, if something goes wrong, you don't have to actually walk out to the device to fix it."

Saint Agnes network communication engineer Phil Mandelbaum says:

"We recently changed the IP addresses for access points in the emergency room wireless system. I was able to change them and reboot the access points at my desk. If an access point goes down, the system will e-mail me. The other night we lost a LASER amplifier for the fiber-optic link between two of our buildings. Mobile Manager notified me that it had lost IP connectivity to the two access points in that building."

Mandelbaum plans to install a Wavelink plug-in that will integrate Mobile Manager with HP OpenView, the software Saint Agnes uses to manage its wired network.

Managing Individual Devices
"The Avalanche product saves us lots of time in having to configure the PDA, tablet, or laptop, by providing a way for us to centrally push out information across the wireless network," says Horsham. "Mobile Manager manages the access points, but we also need to manage the handhelds. With Avalanche, we can send all of those configuration items right to the individual PDA over the wireless infrastructure so that the device can join our network."

"We're a quarter mile away from the hospital. Without a product like this, when something goes wrong with a PDA, we'd have to send someone to the device to reconfigure it. That's very time consuming. Now we can push the configuration directly to the device from the central console," says Horsham.

Saint Agnes uses Mobile Manager and Avalanche together to update SSID and WEP keys across the wireless network for security. "I'm sure our new security officer will want us to change the WEP keys on our devices with greater frequency," says Horsham. "Avalanche will help us automate that task."

Using Profiles to Manage Network Performance
"I use Mobile Manager for managing access point profiles. Different buildings have different profiles," says Mandelbaum. "We use VLANS to segregate departments and locations for traffic management and security. I have six different profiles set up for different areas with different gateways, Domain Name Servers, WIN servers, and their subnet masks. We also have different models of Cisco access points – both 350s and 1200s. I have set up different profiles for each. With the click of a button I can change the configuration on a group of access points or a single access point."

Mandelbaum also uses Mobile Manager to monitor network usage and optimize performance. "I'll bring up my Cancer Center profile to look at those access points. I'll drill down on a specific access point to see what devices are associated with it. If I see that I have one access point that continually has a majority of the devices, then I know I need to adjust the neighboring access points to load-balance."

In the Cancer Center, doctors use the Toshiba pen tablets to view X-ray images from the McKesson PACS medical imaging system. Because of radiation treatments there, lead-lined walls restrict the wireless signal, so wireless coverage in that facility requires more access points, and the large image files require a lot of network bandwidth.

"Those pen tablets are continually in use. That system is really mission critical," says Mandelbaum. "We are planning to go to 54Mz 802.11g to speed up the image throughput because we know there will be a lot more pen tablets in the near future. And we plan to double our density of access points to cover the demand.

"For security reasons, I separate the Cancer Center with a profile that has specific MAC addresses with unique WEP keys and SSID," says Mandelbaum. "Mobile Manager helps with the rotation of the WEP keys. It helps us change SSIDs. And it helps us input the MAC addresses for MAC authentication. That saves hours of work."

Wireless Growing in Popularity
"Now we're adding access points to cover conference rooms in the administrative offices," says Mandelbaum. "People are realizing that they can have access all over the hospital to work more efficiently. The conference rooms are wired with only two or three ports. If you have 30 people in a meeting, the wireless access points make it possible for a lot more people to use their PDAs or laptops."

"The big advantage of the Wavelink software is the ability to manage all the wireless equipment on the network from one location, and see what's going on right away," says Mandelbaum. "With Mobile Manager, these systems are much more secure because we can use Cisco LEAP, WEP keys, SSID, and MAC authentication. It gives us a much more robust and secure environment for the doctors, nurses, and technicians to do the work they need to do."

About Clemens Butz
Clemens Butz is director of product marketing for
Wavelink. He has over 10 years of experience in
product management in consumer software and wireless
and embedded communications products.

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Lori MacVittie is a subject matter expert on emerging technology responsible for outbound evangelism across F5's entire product suite. MacVittie has extensive development and technical architecture experience in both high-tech and enterprise organizations, in addition to network and systems administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning technology editor at Network Computing Magazine where she evaluated and tested application-focused technologies including app security and encryption-related solutions. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University, and is an O'Reilly author.
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Digital Transformation Blogs
Lori MacVittie is a subject matter expert on emerging technology responsible for outbound evangelism across F5's entire product suite. MacVittie has extensive development and technical architecture experience in both high-tech and enterprise organizations, in addition to network and systems administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning technology editor at Network Computing Magazine where she evaluated and tested application-focused technologies including app security and encryption-related solutions. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from th...
CloudEXPO New York 2018, colocated with DevOpsSUMMIT and DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 12-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI and Machine Learning to one location.
CloudEXPO | DevOpsSUMMIT | DXWorldEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.