Baron analysts using iPads over fast 802.11n network

Cisco technology reduces Wi-Fi interference from fish tank controls

The first day the iPad went on sale in April, half the financial analysts and executives at Baron Funds in New York's Manhattan offices lined up and bought their own -- and then immediately wanted to use them via Wi-Fi at work.

"They got no reception in the offices and said, 'We need good Wi-Fi,' so I said lets get a budget for this," Henry Mayorga, Baron's manager of network technology said in an interview.

Mayorga quickly evaluated Wi-Fi options using the faster 802.11n specification, trying out gear from Trapeze Networks, Aruba and Cisco. Cisco won out because it could handle a variety of coverage issues, including radio interference from a large electronic control center for elaborate fish tanks that adorn the Baron offices, a decorating touch added by CEO Ron Baron.

Mayorga found that even 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi gear from Cisco didn't handle the throughput demands of the new iPads and other devices, but the CIsco's 802.11n gear worked -- and it required fewer Access Points (APs) than Trapeze and Aruba. So he installed 18 Cisco Aircap 3502 APs with CleanAir technology to reduce interference.

"It really does make a bit of a difference, especially if there's a lot of interference," Mayorga said. "They work around the interference and give users channels that are clean."

Though Mayorga praised Cisco's 802.11n hardware, which cost $42,000 to install, he criticized Cisco's security software on the Wi-Fi network. "Controlling access with radius authority and device authority is not easy to do with Cisco," he said.

Rather than spend $60,000 for Cisco's security on top of $42,000 for the hardware, Mayorga went with security from Avenda Systems for $15,000. It's working well. "Controlling access into the Wi-Fi network with Cisco was complicated, expensive and brutally difficult to deploy," Mayorga said. "It was freaking unbelievable."

About 50 iPads are used by analysts at Baron to consume massive amounts of information anywhere in the office, not for writing reports that incorporate data from spreadsheets and charts. To create documents, analysts still work at desktops with two monitors and keyboard, Mayorga said.

"So, mostly the iPads are for consumption and when they create [documents] they have a big machine with two screens, a keyboard and a mouse which gives them all the access to information you need to do your work," he said.

IPads have become the "machine of choice," for users, but the policy at Baron is that the users must pay for their own. "Some in management object, but people have bought their own iPads," he noted.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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