Kisiizi IT Network (Part 1)

For the last month or so I’ve been working on a plan to improve the wireless network, and make the most of the internet here. While we have a good satellite internet connection (512Kb/s down, 128Kb/s up), there are a number of things which need to be improved in the way the network functions, namely:

  • There are several important locations around the site which can’t access the wireless network
  • We don’t do any data caching, which means that some of the bandwidth we have is wasted on requests which needn’t happen
  • The network is made up of a series of wireless routers, repeating each other. This isn’t ideal if you want to share data on the network (each wireless network has a different subnet at the moment)
  • There’s no formal data management / backup plan, no shared drives (to speak of, some departments informally share the hard disk of one computer)

I’ve written a long and detailed paper for the management committee, which basically proposes the following:

  • Enable every computer on site to have access to the network -either wirelessly, or with the installation of wired network segments-with the installation of new wireless access points and bridges
  • Install a server to cache DNS requests, and run an HTTP proxy server (I’m planning on using Squid for this).
  • Perform ‘packet shaping’ (also known as Quality of Service) on the internet connection, to allow better service for applications which need a constant stream of data, like Skype

After considering it, the committee have approved the proposals, so I’ve spent the last few weeks working through the details and getting started.

New Wireless Mast

Although the internet is accessible through all the wireless networks here, they’re not all on the same subnet. That means, basically, that a computer on ‘network A’ can’t see a computer on ‘network B’. Not good if you’re trying to share information or back up data to the server.

So, the first part of the plan is to create a single wireless network covering most of the site, with three access points attached to big aerials:

New wireless network for Kisiizi

That’s what I’m working on at the moment. Specifically, the new central access point which will be on a mast 40 feet high, attached to the gable-end of the admin block.

New central wireless access point mast

To support the mast, we’ve cast a 3-foot-deep hole from concrete. Interestingly, the way to form a hole in concrete here is to use banana stem – it rots while the concrete is curing and can (eventually) be pulled out, leaving a nice hole for the mast. Not a technique which would transfer well to the UK!

John 'the brickie' with banana stem to form the concrete hole

With the help of Charles, the power company project manager (and very good welder) I’ve fabricated a stand-off from steel plate and pipe, to support the mast at the top of the wall. I’ve painted it a pleasing JCB-yellow colour – the only thing available in the hospital stores!

Standoff for central access point mast

With the hole and stand-off complete, we welded the mast together yesterday. Now we just need to wait for some voltage regulators from the UK (about which more in a forthcoming article) and we can get central access point working. Then it’ll be on to the two additional masts to complete the core network.

Update

Read more in Part 2

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