Jun 02 2021

Businesses Refocus Attention to Onsite Office Networks

As they plan a return to physical spaces, organizations renew their focus on fast, reliable infrastructure.

Like many businesses, the Arbinger Institute revamped its business model on the fly during the pandemic. Unlike most, it redesigned its new headquarters building, which was under construction when the pandemic began, to reflect the new normal. That includes ensuring its staff and clients have fast, reliable network connectivity.

Based in Farmington, Utah, the management training and consulting firm traditionally held live, in-person workshops, but during COVID-19, it switched to recorded and virtual events. To support that strategy, the Arbinger Institute last year added more studio space for broadcasting sessions while completing its new three-story office building, which opened early in 2021.

The Arbinger Institute installed a state-of-the-art Netgear network that includes a Wi-Fi mesh system that ensures users have good, dependable bandwidth. When it’s safe to fully populate the office, the 50-employee company will rely on the network for onsite workshops, to access and edit video content on servers, and for everyday office tasks, including Voice over Internet Protocol phone calls.

A skeleton crew from the institute, including trainers and video production staff who use the studios for livestreaming and recording virtual workshops, moved into the building in January, says James Prince, the company’s IT operations manager.

“We broadcast our training using different videoconferencing platforms depending on our clients’ preferences: Adobe Connect, Cisco Webex, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Sometimes we have simultaneous events being streamed, so a lot of bandwidth is being used,” he says.

As businesses reopen their physical spaces, in-office networks will once again become vital. Some organizations, like the Arbinger Institute, will rely on their networks more than ever because of new business models or processes developed during the pandemic.

For example, as employees transition back to the office, many will still use technology they relied on while telecommuting, such as mobile computing devices, videoconferencing software and cloud-based software tools. A recent IDC survey found that enterprises expect about one-third of their employees will continue to work remotely, so collaboration tools will be critical for onsite and remote workers to communicate.

“Those online collaboration tools are high-bandwidth applications, so they need a solid network to support them,” says Brandon Butler, a senior research analyst with IDC.

Powering a Network Vital to Hybrid Work

As it built its new office, the Arbinger Institute had to make a few adjustments during the pandemic to reduce costs. However, it kept its budget for networking infrastructure intact.

The company rents out most of the building’s first floor and all of the third floor. Its plan is to also populate the entire second floor and a large training space for in-person workshops on the first floor. To support all its users, the Arbinger Institute invested in a fast, redundant network.

“We had to make some concessions, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the network, because it’s important in the long term,” Prince says.

Inside, he installed 12 Netgear M4300 gigabit-speed managed switches, with Category 6A cabling. He then deployed eight Netgear WAC510 wireless access points on each of the two top floors and placed three beefed-up Netgear WAC540 access points in the first-floor training space, which can fit about 150 attendees.

The stronger access points provide more bandwidth and can handle more simultaneous users. That’s important to Arbinger because workshop attendees will need to connect their laptops to download large media presentations, Prince says.

High Bandwidth to Drives New Work

Strong Wi-Fi is important for the institute’s employees, who use Microsoft Surface laptops and MacBook Pro devices and make VoIP calls from their computers and smartphones.

Users will typically connect their ­laptops to the wired network, but if the sales team or other employees in the open office area need to take private calls, they can hop into one of the enclosed flex spaces.

“All they have to do is unplug their laptops, and they will not lose connectivity,” Prince says.

The company also deployed two Netgear XS716T 10-Gigabit Smart Managed Pro Switch devices in its server room for its high-bandwidth video production needs. The high-end switches allow video editors to access content stored on the media servers and also enable backup to tape drives.

“We had to make sure the bandwidth was high enough so they could edit 4K and 8K video and render it simultaneously on the network,” he says.

Make Sure Your Organization Is Ready for Business

Farm Credit Mid-America, which p­rovides loans and crop insurance to farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses, upgraded its networks and installed Cisco TelePresence videoconferencing systems at its new headquarters in Louisville, Ky., and at 80 retail branches in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Immerse yourself in the tech solutions that build small business resiliency.

As a result, the company’s network infrastructure is ready for a safe to return to its offices.

FCMA added redundant fiber connections and new Cisco Catalyst 9000 Series routers, switches and Wi-Fi equipment throughout its facilities in 2019. The company also built a new data center using Cisco Unified Computing System servers and standardized on Cisco Webex Teams, a collaboration tool that offers group chat, videoconferencing, whiteboarding and file sharing.

The goal was to improve customer service, bolster employee productivity and collaboration, and support an increasingly mobile workforce and customer base, says Mike Everett, an FCMA vice president and chief security officer.

For example, in the future, employees can hold videoconference meetings in different office locations. When customers visit the company’s branches, employees can access customer information from the corporate data center much faster than before.

“When customers come in, our te­ammates can pull up customer information in a split second so they can share the data and talk through whatever they need,” Everett says. “That’s a huge improvement. Before, they had to wait because we had latency and degradation between systems.”

While some branches have reopened, most employees currently telecommute. FCMA uses Cisco AnyConnect VPNs to allow staff to securely connect to the corporate network.

“The network and Webex Teams have been huge drivers of our success during the pandemic, allowing our teammates to still very much interact and meet the needs of our customers,” he says.

Pop-Up Wi-Fi for Remote Areas

For Samaritan’s Purse, its “office” is anywhere in the world that it can provide emergency aid. The Christian disaster relief organization sets up emergency field hospitals to assist with COVID-19 response and other disasters, and it’s using pop-up wireless networks to do it.

In 2020, Samaritan’s Purse deployed emergency field hospitals in New York City as well as in Italy and the Bahamas to assist overloaded local facilities with COVID-19 patients. In Honduras, it helped treat more than 2,100 patients affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota.

“With our deployment network kits, we are able to provide connectivity for phones and computers, email, voice and videoconferencing, patient record management, and secure connections back to our data center services,” says Ryan Blizek, IT disaster response specialist for Samaritan’s Purse.

The Boone, N.C.-based organization standardized on Cradlepoint IBR900 wireless routers, which let it create secure, wireless networks by connecting to a cellular LTE connection or to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), a national cellular network for first responders.

The Cradlepoint device served as the primary WAN device for several weeks in February 2020, when Samaritan’s Purse helped build a 68-bed emergency field hospital in northern Italy, until a fiber connection was installed. Blizek then used Cradlepoint as a backup WAN connection.

“The network supported our 60 to 70 medical staff and administrative and support personnel for the full two months the emergency field hospital was operational,” he says. 

photography by Skylar Nielsen