Networking on the fly at Toronto Convention Centre

Building and removing two to three networks a week is part of the job for Chris Taylor, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s telecommunications IT manager.

“Every client is unique, as are all network capabilities,” says Taylor. “Almost all events, about 75 per cent, require some form of Internet access. This ranges from one wireless account for a laptop at a help desk to the AIDS conference, which had eight separate virtual networks.”

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) is Canada’s largest international conference venue. It has about one million square feet over two buildings, some of it six stories underground.

“We use Siemens HiPath as part of our large building deployment,” Taylor says. “This has one main control router, with access points that are fed back over the internal LAN.”

Testing is done in part using Fluke Networks portable wireless and wired monitoring devices, the EtherScope Series II Network Assistant.

“We’ve used the wired assistant as far back as seven or eight years ago,” says Taylor, “and have been using the Series II wireless component since the spring.”

The monitoring device troubleshoots, monitors traffic flow, and identifies unauthorized access points. It can also change ports on the fly.

Brad Masterson, product manager with Fluke Networks in Mississauga, Ont., says the EtherScope II is powerful for a handheld niche product. “You plug it into a charger and it runs on batteries. For what it does, this is more powerful than a laptop. This a designated tool for high-traffic environments. It’s purpose-built,” Masterson says, adding that the unit has a browser built in as well as network-based tools.

Cost depends on the configuration, but it usually comes in at around $10,000. Configurations include wireless only, wired only, and combined wired/wireless.

Where to from here? The EtherScope II is designed for 802.11 a, b and g wireless LANs, and is waiting on the n standard.

“We’ll stay away from the n standard until ratification,” say Masterson. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t looking at it, or that it doesn’t fit into our product plans.”

Fluke Networks is part of a large conglomerate, having split in 2000 into a separate business unit. This unit, which is only focused on communications testing, did about $450 million in revenues last year, according to Jessy F. Cavazos, industry manager for measurement and instrumentation at Frost & Sullivan.

“We had them ranked No. 2 in the protocol analyzer market in 2006, between Network General and Network Instruments,” says Cavazos. “Network General was No. 1, at 50 per cent of the market, primarily (because) of their sniffer product.”

The MTCC is sticking with its present vendors, but is keeping an eye on emerging standards like 802.11n, as well as WiMAX.

“We’ve seen some bleed from the city’s wireless network, but a lot of our space is out of reach. WiMAX might be interesting,” Taylor says. “Right now our focus is as a connectivity supplier. We have standard pricing that we charge for different services. We don’t do client-server relations, but if you want to set up a client-server environment you can run it over our infrastructure.”

Part of the challenge for the MTCC is the diversity of usage. A big show might have an Internet caf

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