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Nailing Alignment Between IT and Events to Successfully Deploy a Temporary Network

Kenn Jones Senior Manager, Corporate Systems Engineering Published 5 Oct 2020

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

All right, the Extreme Networks Global Partner Summit is right around the corner, and my networking team and I are fired up…not only for the event itself, but to tackle standing up a temporary network that will provide connectivity for 1500 attendees. It’ll be a challenge, but I have no doubt we’ll conquer it.

Since the event is coming up, building the temporary network is obviously on the horizon, so I figured it would be a great time to share what it’s really like to build a temporary network. Let’s start at the beginning: planning.

We generally know way ahead of time when these events are going to happen because Julie Kinch, the Manager of Global Meetings here at Extreme, will talk to me when she’s writing up a contract for an event’s venue and figure out at a high level what we’re going to provide and the associated costs.  It doesn’t hit my radar for real until she gives me a call and lets me know we have a site visit coming up. The on-site visit is fairly important because it gives us a chance to have a conversation with the venue’s networking team and scope out what we’ll do and need in detail.

The facility people usually come into the room thinking we are going to have a conversation about how they are going to provide us a network so I have to make them understand that I need them to provide me a way to completely bypass their network so I can build my own. The unusual part is that we use the event venue’s infrastructure in such a way that our switches are running everything instead of theirs, and we bring our own wireless solutions.

For GPS this year, a member of my team headed up the site visit, figured out what was needed for equipment and transferred the info to me. Then I reached out to the venue’s IT person to start planning what we’ll be building as a solution as well as what they will provide us for Internet connectivity.

IT and Events Working Together 

It’s definitely worth noting that IT and events have to be in alignment and communicating regularly to make a temporary network happen. We need maps and layouts; this usually takes place at the on-site visit. We have to determine which sessions will happen in which rooms and how many people will be in each room at a certain time. Based on that information, I can figure out what’s needed from a network operations and wireless standpoint. You have to consider things like, if we’re doing demonstrations, for instance, we’ll need to know where they’re being held and what’s needed for equipment, power and network connectivity. Often times rooms will be configured one way on one day and then arranged differently the next so we have to coordinate that with changes in how the wireless is deployed. One day a space is one large room with a couple hundred people in it and the next it’s four separate rooms doing breakout sessions. You have to have a plan to make these changes without disrupting service.

“Wi-Fi is an everyday necessity (and I’m not just saying that because I work at a networking company.) Event attendees expect to be able to connect to the internet when they attend conferences – everyone wants to check email and they love sharing updates on social media and being able to search any thought they have immediately on the Internet. For our events, we pride ourselves on being able to meet all attendees needs and show them what customer-driven networking really looks like.” – Julie Kinch, Manager of Global Meetings, Extreme Networks

Accounting for Potential Dual Equipment Interference

Remember, when it comes to setting up event networks, there’s always the chance that the equipment that’s on site could interfere with the equipment you bring. We try to plan for this accordingly. When it comes to wireless, there’s a completely redundant solution already operating, so we have to come up with a channel plan that can coexist with the one that is already deployed by the venue to ensure we don’t interfere with the existing network and vice versa. Just something to be cognizant of in making sure everything works properly. We always make sure people can easily connect to our SSIDs instead of whatever’s offered by the facility.

When the Going Gets Tough, Have Backup Plans for Your Backup Plans

If I had to pinpoint the most difficult part about standing up a temporary event network, I’d say it’s simply the whole shotgun approach. It’s a lot like what you would imagine what happens when the circus comes to town. We have a deadline to meet within one day, maybe a day and a half, to get the network all up and running and working correctly with two goals in mind:

  1. Have a reliable, fantastically working network which utilizes our equipment and allows for all of our guests to connect.
  1. Take the opportunity to share and demonstrate our newest products and solutions in a live environment.

Given that we usually go into events with brand new versions of firmware and other solutions that haven’t always been deployed before, we’re always careful to gauge whether it’s ready for prime time, and whether we should be doing it if it’s not working quite as well as we’d like. We always have a backup plan, and a backup plan for the backup plan.

Besides that, I don’t really find it stressful. I enjoy the whole process. I like going in there, building out a network quickly, from soup to nuts. Come to think of it, the fact that I don’t get stressed is probably why Extreme has me do it. I know in the end the people I work with are going to be able to get their jobs done and we’ll provide the services that our guests require.

My Top 3 Recommendations for a Successful Event Network Deployment

  1. The most important thing is proper planning ahead of time and having a backup plan for everything. Also, I hate to say it, but don’t rely on everything that facilities people tell you to be actually true, because sometimes they say something is available when it’s not and you need to have a backup plan for that, too.
  1. Also, make sure you have a proper count of what’s needed ahead of time. That’s the purpose of your on-site visit: to find out how many access points and switches you’ll need, where they’re actually going to be located, whether you can get the connectivity the way you want, etc. Logistics are key.
  1. Finally, make sure you have competent people to work with when you’re building out the network. You need expert-level engineers spanning every area. Everyone should know what they need to do and there needs to be an engineer to troubleshoot possible wireless or switching problems. This way your team can figure it out as you go along. No matter what you do, there’s always things that will change!

Stay tuned for my next blog discussing the exact number of steps in our team’s process for building and managing a temporary network!

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