WiFi at Resurrection

As a rule, I try not to get too proactive on infrastructure.  I have found over the years that doing so runs a high risk of investing precious resources to solve a problem you never end up having.  In that spirit, a few years ago when WiFi was exploding onto the scene and many consumers started getting wireless routers at home, I knew we needed to start offering WiFi for guests on our central campus.  Simultaneously, I wanted to use WiFi for children’s check in.

Rather that designing and implementing a rigorous commercial WiFi infrastructure, I felt it was best to go buy some consumer-grade routers/access points and get started at a very low cost of entry.  Those devices cost $100-150 at the time.  I bought one Netgear router and after a bit of experimentation, I quickly bought two more.  Together they covered the narthex (lobby), most of the main sanctuary, and the portion of the children’s wing where we had check-in stations.  Total hardware investment was under $400 and we had something that filled the immediate need.

Over the next couple of years, we continued to buy more access points to cover more and more of our facilities.  Each time we have gotten new access points, we have used NetStumbler to measure signal strength and determine optimum placement.  We weren’t worried about security because: 1) we don’t have a private WiFi network at all; instead we tell staff to use remote desktop when they’re using wireless, just as if they were working from home; and 2) we have the public, non-secure access points on a separate VLAN. Total investment was still under $1,500 as wireless equipment got better and continued to come down in price.

Two years ago we replaced our Cisco PIX firewall with a SonicWALL Pro 2040, after evaluating a wide range of web content filtering products.  Ian, our network administrator, quickly discovered many, many cool tricks he could do with the 2040 and we fell in love with it.  Since then we have upgraded to a 3060.  One cool trick of these Pro-series appliances is their ability to manage access points.  So last year right before the Church IT RoundTable and Leadership Institute 2007, we bought a 4-pack of SonicPoints and deployed them to our most heavily used zones.  We immediately benefited from the improved realiability and manageability of these commercial-grade access points.

Earlier this week we got another 4-pack of SonicPoints and installed them in preparation for Leadership Institute 2008.  The new ones are the 802.11a/b/g version. I mentioned that today would be the best chance to test them until this event comes around again next year. I’m pleased to report that it worked like a champ. The additional NetStumbler testing we did this week allowed us to determine permanent locations for installation over the next few months.

Through this process we have learned incrementally, invested incrementally, and made incremental improvements.  Though we’ve spent less than $4,000 since we bought our first access point, we now have a solid, reliable WiFi infrastructure.  $4,000 is less than the consulting fee alone to have a commercial WiFi system designed for our facilities.

Do you have a story of a time you overbuilt something?  Or what about a time you invested slowly and incrementally, with a great end result and great stewardship?

Leadership Institute 2008

This week is Church of the Resurrection’s flagship conference for pastors and church leaders, Leadership Institute.  Each year it ranks among my top highlights of the year because of the opportunity to serve and meet many new people from all across the country who are passionate about improving their church leadership skills.

This is my 6th Leadership Institute and the first one at which I am not presenting.  This has given me the opportunity to focus much more than ever before on the network, WiFi, and other aspects of our guests’ experience.  I will post tomorrow about our recent infrastructure upgrades and how it is faring under the load.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), only once a year at Leadership Institute do we have a major network load spike.  Each year we learn something new, but then we have to wait until the next year to apply the lessons and find out how much of an improvement we have achieved.  So Friday, when we have all 1,700 guests on campus, will be our moment of truth.

Not presenting this year has also given me the opportunity to take photos of conference activities all over campus.  Andrew Conard asked LI photographers to upload their pictures to Flickr and tag them with “LI2008.” Right now it looks like I’m the only one who has really taken him up on that.  Here are a couple of my favorites so far.

Paul Baloche and band lead a clinic for worship musicians

Attendees enjoying the presentation by Midnight Oil
Correy Trupp talking about Small Group ministry
Yvonne Gentile presents in the Wesley Chapel
Conference guests outside before opening worship
Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton interviews congregant Kelly Sisney

For more, check out my full Flickr set.