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Wi-Fi

Wireless takes away the hassles

Honda Siel India implemented a campus-wide Wireless Local Area Network after facing a string of teething problems. The results have proved that the efforts were worth it


Hilal Khan

Automobile manufacturer Honda Siel India, the company that manufactures City and Accord car models as well as the CRV has a campus spread over 250 acres in Greater Noida, near New Delhi. The legacy campus Local Area Network (LAN) had performance and scalability issues when the number of users increased from 100 to 700.

After a few attempts to upgrade the legacy LAN, the company deployed a campus-wide LAN network. And after a number of teething problems, the organisation felt that the use of wireless was really worth the while.

Organisational Growth

In 2002, the problem of growing traffic and the need to access more applications by an increasing number of users became a significant issue.

The company adopted a three-pronged approach to expansion. It decided to;

  • Create a good backbone to avoid the network downtime, which happened at the cost of actual applications.
  • Provide connectivity to the remote locations.
  • Expand the network in the primary function area.

In line with the strategy, the existing hub was replaced with a Layer-3 chassis-based Cisco switch to enhance the network performance. Three Virtual LANs were created from this new switch-based network. And remote units like spares, receiving area, materials gate, yard, utility centre, training centre and R&D centre were interconnected.

As the demand for access to more applications from the remote sites grew, the company decided to deploy new and efficient means of connectivity.

Why Wireless?

The existing Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) LAN was unable to scale up and meet the performance needs of the administration and production areas. This was especially because the number of users grew from 100 to 700 in a short time. All the channels, through which the UTP cable was laid, were full and buried under the floor. The company found that it was not feasible to put supplementary channels to induct new UTP cables.

“It posed digging and civil works issues, and was aesthetically challenging,” said Hilal I Khan, Head, IT, Honda Siel Cars India.

Time was important. The new users had to be connected as soon as possible. And an added benefit of mobility would help the operations.

“Since it was a defined area, we thought that giving a chance to Wireless LAN might just work,” said Khan.

Where no company had gone before

Although simple to deploy, the technology carried with it a unique set of problems. “Our first worry was to choose the right partner purely in terms of the vendor who could provide us the right equipment like access points, adapters, and network cards,” said Khan.

There was no successful deployment case study example as yet, especially in the manufacturing industry. Honda Siel India did not know much about the capabilities of a wireless vendor.

“The important concern was that none of the vendors, who were called for discussion, were able to provide a suitable solution given the prevailing circumstances in our organisation,” said Khan. Each vendor endorsed the need-based implementation plan that the company had internally prepared.

“At the cost of sounding thankless to the vendor and the integration partner, the credit of design and to some extent, the rollout goes to the internal IT team,” commented Khan.

Select the Vendor

The company decided to deploy and test the available options.

“We tested equipment from Cisco, Avaya, and Netgear to see the pros and cons and evaluate their potential,” says Khan. After evaluation the company decided to use equipment from Cisco. The solution provided 802.11g WLAN with 54 Mbps speed.

The network was backward and forward-scalable and did not have compatibility issues. By updating a firmware at the access point, the access point could be scaled down to 11 Mbps and scaled up to 108 Mbps.

“At a later stage Network Solutions also played a significant and able role to fulfil our needs along with our active components partner Cisco,” Khan adds.

WLAN Facts
  • The company
    Automobile manufacturer Honda Siel India, the company that manufactures City and Accord cars and sells CRV, has a campus spread over 250 acres in Greater Noida.
  • The need
    The legacy campus LAN had performance and scalability issues when the number of users increased from 100 to 700.
  • The solution
    The wired campus LAN was upgraded to a wireless setup. The solution had a few initial problems, which were overcome later.
  • The benefits
    The company enjoys hassle-free connectivity with no scaling or mobility issues.

Lack of Clarity

The company was not able to ascertain how many people it could populate on that network. There was no clear idea of the number of access points to be put. There was not much clarity on how to avoid the ‘black holes,’ which could disrupt the network. “We started with one, but ended up installing seven access points for the defined area of 500 sq metres,” said Khan.

Though the initial implementation was for seven wireless points in one building, the company ended up installing more than 35 access points in 12 buildings within the same factory premises. “That reflects our confidence in technology, speedy deployment, freedom of mobility and tangible cost advantages. As part of our network strategy we have decided that our buildings and locations will be having at least one access point each,” says Khan.

The company deployed 35 WLAN access points in the primary area of administration and production. The initial cost was not too high, as the access points were not too expensive. But the recurring cost of the wireless network was still a concern area.

The wireless cards are still in the range of about Rs 6,000 for desktops. “If I buy a new device, I can ensure that it is pre-fitted with a wireless card, but what would I do about the existing ones,” asks Khan. Because of the cost of the card, the TCO goes up.

Bouquet of Benefits

After all the teething problems, Khan still maintains that it was a positive step and a great learning exercise with regard to future expansions or deployments.

Initially the company populated only 25 people on this network, but today there are 400 people using it. “We plan to put 100 more people on this network soon,” says Khan.

The performance barring the initial issues was stable and the speed was up to the organisation’s requirements. “We are happy with the initial investment as well as the time taken to deploy. But the recurring cost is still a grey area,” feels Khan. The cumbersome process of laying down the fibre/UTP cables was bypassed. The best aspect about the solution was that the implementation did not create any hindrance in the day-to-day activity.

“Smooth integration with the backend Cisco switch was another advantage that had to be taken into account. The UTP instead of terminating on different nodes, can now terminate on an access point and the network is up and running,” says Khan.

Epilogue

In 2005 Honda-Siel felt that business criticality demanded that LAN users all over be on a redundant network. To achieve this, a ring LAN was created so that every location had access to the LAN through two different paths.

The objective was that every building within the company should have a wireless access point to serve the purpose of providing additional number of network connections and make the users mobile. The company has decided to create redundancy at the switch level i.e. within the switch and replicate the master switch.

With inputs from Priya Jain

 
     
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