A couple of years ago, I tried to save some money by connecting two schools with a high-speed wireless bridge. Upgrading the Internet connection at both schools wasn’t going to be cheap and it would have been far more cost-effective to just run a big pipe into one school than two smaller pipes into both. They also just happened to be across the street from each other. Phone and power companies start getting grumpy if average citizens string ethernet cables between telephone poles, so wireless seemed like the answer, right?
Wrong. To get something reliable and fast at that time, it was actually more expensive to install the bridge than install cable Internet at both locations. We were looking at 2 years to recoup the investment. Fast forward to today, though, and $160 will get you 2 wireless transceivers running 300mbps full duplex. Ubiquiti Networks airMAX NanoStations are about the size of a consumer wireless access point; can be installed inside or out; have a maximum range of 17 miles with line of site; come with incredible, totally customizable firmware; PoE (injector included); and can act as dedicated bridges, powerful wireless access points, full mesh repeaters, or receivers in next-generation wireless ethernet. How do I know? Because they connect my house and office across the street; I found them when my consumer AP/bridge couldn’t hold a decent connection. The NanoStations seem impervious to bad weather, passing trucks, and anything else that might interfere with their operation.
The final piece of infrastructure actually falls somewhere between software and networking hardware. It’s Untangle, the open source Internet gateway. Right now, it’s load balancing between a satellite and DSL internet connection, filtering content, providing a web cache to help me deal with my 25GB/month satellite data allowance, handling QoS so I can do webcasts without having to call across the street to my house to have my kids get off the Internet, dishing out DHCP and DNS, and much more.
Untangle is largely free software that can be installed on a repurposed machine (it’s based on Debian Linux) or you can buy a variety of dedicated appliances from the company. It’s a solid enterprise gateway/firewall/content filter/load balancer and scales very well. I don’t want to give it all away though. I’ll let you know when Cengage publishes the book.