Wireless Servers: From LANs to the Internet

Wireless Servers: From LANs to the Internet


January 29, 2001

By Karl Magsig

The wireless LAN enables people to move throughout corporate buildings or campuses, taking their computer and network connection with them. With wireless, there is no need to jockey for position near network drops or to lug around network cables for laptops. Wireless also puts an end to worn-out or damaged network cables. (Anyone who has ever rolled over a network patch cable with an office chair will appreciate this.) Further, wireless LANs can eliminate the price of costly network cables and hubs for enterprises renovating an existing building or working on new construction. In the case of new construction, engineers are free from the constraints of providing sufficient wiring to accommodate today's movable office.

By Karl Magsig

Distance from server to client is also a consideration when planning a wireless network. Most wireless network devices have a range of about 150 meters in an indoor environment. In most cases this is adequate, but when a corporate location covers multiple buildings or is a large structure, distance limitations can become restrictive. Most wireless network hardware vendors also supply access points that are stand-alone wireless devices, hard-wired to the corporate network. These access points provide remote access for people working a long way from the central server or other wireless nodes on the network.

A final concern is price. While some standard Ethernet devices are available for as little as $25, most wireless devices are well over $100, with top models costing as much as $200. However, these higher prices are balanced out by eliminating the costs of physical cabling and network hubs standard with wired networks. As the technology matures, with more manufacturers offering wireless solutions, the costs will further decrease.

By Karl Magsig

It is also true some software packages perform better in a wireless environment. Proxy servers and e-mail servers are examples of servers that may require additional functionality to optimize the performance of a Wireless LAN.

With the emergence of the Internet, an increasing number of wireless networks are being hooked up to shared Internet connections. Today, one of the least expensive and easiest methods of Internet sharing is the proxy server. Many proxy servers support wireless LAN connections as easily as they support wired LAN connections. Some examples are WinGate by Deerfield.com, WinProxy by Ositis software, MidPoint by MidPoint Software, SyGate by Sybergen, NetcPlus Internet Solutions' BrowseGate, and Microsoft's ICS.

Most of these proxy servers also have NAT services available, making any proxy configurations on the workstations unnecessary. In turn, this makes mobile workstations easier to work with. Two of these, Microsoft ICS and WinGate, also provide multiple segmented LAN bridging capabilities. This means clients on a wired LAN can directly share resources with clients on a wireless LAN. Without a network bridge, it is impossible to access shared resources from one network topology to another. Network bridging enables the two separate physical networks to function as one.

Corporate mail servers are another area of growing interest for enterprises with a wireless LAN. Most mail servers allow for both internal (LAN) and external (Internet) e-mail capabilities. To perform optimally, the server may require some extra features. Offered by MDaemon from Deerfield.com and Mercur from Atrium, among others, Short Message Service (SMS) gateway support allows e-mail to be routed from the server to a cell phone or pager. SMS is most common in Europe and is a nice feature for mobile workers.

Since wireless networks are still susceptible to interruption and are still less stable than wired networks, it is also important the mail server include "Keep Alive" packet functionality. These packets enable the mail server to monitor the status of open connections. If the connection is dropped, the mail server detects the disconnection and closes immediately, instead of waiting for the connection to time out. Without this feature, the connection may stay open until the mail server times out due to inactivity, usually around 10 minutes. An unused, open connection may cause slower mail delivery, and possibly disrupt the wireless mail stream.

By Karl Magsig

A wireless network provides users with more mobility and freedom within their networked environment as well as making it quicker, simpler and sometimes less-expensive to implement a functional network.