By Russ Levanway, President
Late last month, the FBI reported on an attempt by Russian hackers to infect hundreds of thousands of residential routers in at least 54 countries with malware. With residential routers like Linksys and NetGear primarily affected, the FBI recommended that people restart their home router to disrupt the attack. In November last year, there was a serious vulnerability that affected most wifi networks as well.
We received a few calls about this most recent major incident, but since virtually all of our clients use business-class equipment on our recommendation, the impacts were very minimal. The wifi vulnerability in November also had a minimal impact, since the business-class wifi deployed at most of our clients can be centrally managed and updated quickly. This leads me to a topic worth discussing here: the difference between business-class and consumer-class equipment.
The wrong tool for the job
Whenever I go into an environment where free wifi is offered, like a coffee shop, I can’t help but look around for the wireless access point device. If I discover a dusty little D-Link or similar box meant for home use and a maximum of five users, it inevitably bears out in the wireless connection I experience: slow, inconsistent, and/or intermittently accessible.
Really, if you buy a wireless router for $80 from Staples, you can’t expect it to work in a business environment. That applies to other pieces of equipment, not just routers and wireless access points, by the way, like printers (like inkjet printers for which the ink costs as much as the printer itself) and computers. In the context of a business environment, an entry-level computer installed with a home version of Windows simply won’t cut the mustard: it may not connect to the domain or inter-operate properly with your business network, and to pay for the software upgrades, it makes more sense just to purchase a business-class system to begin with.
Long-term versus short-term total cost of ownership
When clients come to us as their trusted advisor, we give them what we firmly believe is the best solution for them, not intentionally the one that is either most expensive and/or serves our bottom line in any way. This can be really annoying sometimes (especially when we recommend to young, lean start-up companies a system that costs twice as much to set up as a desktop computer running Windows Home from Costco) but the end result is far, far better for long-term productivity. A business-class system inter-operates with your network. The right software has to be installed, so the set-up involves labor costs, however that software makes your equipment supportable into the future.
Taking into account all of the labor, software, equipment and training required to build and maintain a system is called the total cost of ownership (TCO). We feel strongly that, in business environments, business-class equipment provides the lowest TCO. In purchasing a Linksys wireless access point to save money or time, productivity decreases, interoperability decreases, and TCO actually rises. Suddenly that Linksys doesn’t seem so affordable. If, instead, you purchase a business-grade wireless access point dedicated to your workplace, the costs may be greater up front, but the device will work for years, offer reliable connectivity, and scale up when you grow. Before long, we may be talking about enterprise-class, instead of business-class!