December 16, 2021

3 min

5 Surprising Spaces That Are a Good Fit for Ruggedized IoT Networks

Think hardened IT infrastructure is just for far-flung areas with extreme weather? Think again.

When people think of ruggedized Internet of Things networks, they may imagine wireless access points clinging to the sides of oil derricks or nestled deep inside a mineshaft. 

Certainly, ruggedized IT infrastructure is important in such extreme scenarios. But there are also many everyday settings where ruggedized equipment is essential. And when organizations in these fields unwittingly opt for off-the-shelf hardware instead, they may run into serious problems. 

Here are five surprising environments where ruggedized networks are a must.

1. Food-Processing Facilities

Manufacturing facilities might need ruggedized equipment due to exposure to dust, liquids and extreme vibration. One surprising facility where I’ve installed wireless networking equipment is a blast freezer — the area where food processors rapidly chill their products to prepare them for shipping. In environments with extremely low temperatures, wireless APs must be housed in heated enclosures to ensure they continue to function properly.

2. Sports Stadiums

The open-air environment, unique architecture and sheer density of spectators at sports stadiums make them an interesting networking challenge. Of course, APs that are installed outdoors must be protected from the elements, but indoor equipment at sports stadiums also often needs to be ruggedized. For instance, I’ve been involved with installations where antennas were hidden inside the handrails leading into the bowl of a stadium. These railings are handled by thousands of fans on game days, and they take their fair share of beer spillage. After games, workers spray them down with power washers, creating a clear need for ruggedized equipment.

3. Hospitals

In some hospital areas, such as operating rooms, every square inch of the space must be cleaned and sterilized between uses. This means that everything from countertops to wireless APs will be wiped down many times each week. IT infrastructure must be able to stand up to this constant cleaning. Also, many healthcare facilities use bathrooms and shower areas as shelters during extreme weather events, such as tornados. Because many hospitals rely on Voice over IP for their communications, these emergency shelters must be networked, and because these areas are frequently wet, the networking equipment must be ruggedized.

4. Outdoor Campuses

It’s not too surprising that antennas installed outdoors would need to be protected from the elements, but sometimes, IT and business leaders underestimate just how much protection outdoor networking equipment requires. For instance, it’s common to see outdoor infrastructure installed without being grounded to protect it from lightning strikes. Lightning is immensely powerful, and even a grounded AP would likely be fried by a direct hit. But without proper grounding, that direct hit might also take out upstream and adjacent network infrastructure, causing many thousands of dollars in damaged hardware.

5. Warehouses

Again, industrial environments present numerous networking challenges. But here’s one factor that people tend to overlook in warehouse environments: The temperature increases as you go higher up in a facility. Depending on what sort of roof a building has, a wireless AP near the ceiling might routinely experience temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If organizations don’t invest in ruggedized equipment, they’re likely to experience outages. And because these outages will likely be intermittent, they will be difficult to diagnose without advanced network monitoring tools. In short, organizations can often save themselves significant headaches over the long term by investing in ruggedized IT upfront.

Story by Colin Vallance, a technical architect for CDW with a focus on wireless technologies and automation/programmability. In his role, Colin is responsible for the development of Wi-Fi solutions and services to meet the ever-changing needs of customers. Colin has been at CDW for more than a decade, first as a delivery engineer and then as a technical lead, before becoming a technical architect. During his time in delivery, Colin surveyed millions of square feet, implemented dozens of networks and had the pleasure of working on several CDW stadium projects. He holds a CCIE Wireless, various certifications from Cisco, Aruba and Meraki as well as U.S. patent 10,789,846.

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