Upgrading a Network to Meet Wireless Demands
By Bob Violino
Enterprises need to support growing user demands for wireless networking, or they will find it difficult to do business successfully. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, part of the University of Georgia, knows this firsthand. The organization recently launched a complete overhaul of its broadband network for staff, event attendees and visitors.
"We simply were not able to fulfill the various needs of the business with our current setup," recalls James Gilstrap, CIO of the State Botanical Garden. "Previously, we had a DSL connection that did not provide us with enough bandwidth to cover the day-to-day tasks, much less give visitors access to free WiFi. We needed a better Internet connection for our staff members, event attendees and visitors."
The staff needed more reliable access to various systems; event attendees needed to stay in contact with their work duties; and visitors wanted to be able to use WiFi devices, he adds.
The organization needed a solution that would meet all these demands, as well as be scalable and cost-effective. After investigating various options, the organization deployed Mushroom Networks' Broadband Bonding, a technology that inexpensively bonds multiple 3G and 4G wireless cards into a single high-speed connection.
"We looked at several bonding options but chose Mushroom Networks because it offered quality service and a good product," Gilstrap says. "When we first started out, we were looking to bond multiple DSL lines. But, over the course of working with Mushroom, talking to service providers and reviewing our needs, we decided to bond 3G and 4G networks instead."
The system could handle all the 4G the Botanical Garden wanted, with nearly all the functionality of an edge device, including easy expansion capabilities.
For in-house staff, one of the system's biggest benefits is the ability to use the new Blackbaud CRM system. "We have an off-site CRM system that requires staff to use a VPN for access," Gilstrap says. "Any VPN will eat up bandwidth, so we needed Mushroom to be in place so staff could use the VPN and perform all their other functions without worrying about bandwidth."
As for visitors, "We see an increase in usage of the WiFi, especially in terms of scanning the various QR codes that allow them to learn more about specific plants," Gilstrap reports. "We also have more visitors, such as local college students, coming to the gardens as a place to study or work. We see many more coming with their laptops to use WiFi in our relaxing setting."
The organization also provides facilities for various events at the garden. Recently, it held a conference for 30 people, but one of the speakers could not make the event, he says.
"Previously, the constraints of our Internet service would not have allowed a remote connection with the speaker," Gilstrap explains. "However, since we had deployed Mushroom a week before this event, we had the speaker run a remote connection to our auditorium." As a result, the speaker was able to give a PowerPoint presentation without any interruptions.
"This will help our event retention rate, as we already hear from attendees that they enjoy having more reliable Internet access," he says. In the future, the Botanical Garden will likely start a remote access capability for mobile work.
The network overhaul fits perfectly with the organization's goals to operate more efficiently and provide a quality experience for visitors and event attendees, as well as staff Gilstrap concludes.