More than ever the answer is in the cloud
The market for cloud-managed wireless internet access in Northern Ireland is growing strongly, driven by its cost-efficiency and the ease with which hard-pressed IT support teams can use the cloud to monitor and control all aspects of Wi-fi use.
The benefits are particularly strong for organisations that have multiple sites at which Wi-fi access is needed. Using a cloud-based solution is a far more efficient alternative to buying, maintaining and upgrading hardware and software across a number of different locations that have little or no on-site IT presence.
With Wi-fi in ever-increasing demand from both the public and business users, cloud-based solutions really find favour with IT teams, according to Graham Childs, ICT Sales Specialist with BT in Northern Ireland.
"Thanks to the range of features available and the widespread acceptance of cloud-based technologies, network managers and IT support people really love the ease of management these systems offer," he says.
"Where you have few IT people and multiple sites with no direct IT support, the cloud makes perfect sense. As a Cisco Gold Partner, we offer the Cisco Meraki system which has all the features, tools and support you would expect from traditional on-premise network management platforms but with the enormous flexibility offered by cloud-based solutions."
One BT customer to have adopted the Cisco Meraki solution is the Donnelly Group, Northern Ireland's largest independently owned Motor Group.
They have installed Wi-fi access points across all their eight locations in Northern Ireland, providing access for both customers and staff.
Graham Childs says: "You can picture a busy Saturday when a family come into a car showroom and have a couple of children to keep happy.
"They'll want to sit down with their mobile devices and connect to the Minecraft channel on You Tube - so Wi-fi is a must-have. At the same time, Donnelly's need a separate secure Wi-fi network for their day-to-day business needs."
Ease of management is a big plus for Gary Holmes, a member of the three-strong IT team at Donnelly Group.
"As well as guest Wi-fi, we have a number of SSIDs (wireless networks) for staff. The main backbone was installed for our workshops where we have diagnostic machines that need to talk to manufacturing systems and a lot of devices for vehicle updates and health checks connected to our internal systems.
"We currently have 36 Meraki access points across all our sites. The real benefit for us in IT is the cloud-based management which we can access remotely from our Head Office in Dungannon or using an app on a tablet or smart phone," he says.
"It give us great visibility. On a single dashboard, we can see all the access points, what devices are connected to them, the amount and type of traffic at any one moment and we get automatic updates of all the features. All this saves us having to travel to different sites or having to roll out updates across the network."
The latter point is one that Graham Childs picks up on: "The management system is in the Cisco data centre; so security, hardware or software updates are done there - you don't have to do it yourself."
Today the cloud is enabling systems that are always up to date with lower operating costs than running traditional appliances and, in the process, it has transformed the experience for both those who provide a service and those who use it every day.
- Graham Childs is an ICT Sales Specialist at BT Business & Public Sector in Northern Ireland. For further information and to contact BT Business in Northern Ireland please email firstname.lastname@example.org