October 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 2003 Current Issue
October 2003 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

Using your PC off-site can be simple if you’ve done your homework

This is not, as the title might suggest, a column about meeting new people at the next meeting; it is about the not-so-easy task of getting PCs to work at the meeting venue.

Even with the ease of networking built into Windows XP, users will need to do some planning before they arrive and hook up their PCs. Depending on the type of software used, the nature of the in-house network and what needs to be accomplished, it could be as easy as putting the notebook in a briefcase or hiring a local provider to handle the details.

A little advance planning will go a long way toward ensuring smooth on-site operations. Key considerations:

• Is more than one workstation necessary? For a small meeting, one is probably sufficient to verify attendee information and print missing or incorrect badges. In that case, the only items needed on the road are the PC, printer, cables and supplies.

For a network setup, determine how many workstations will be required and whether it can run in a peer-to-peer environment (where one of the workstations also functions as the server) or if a separate PC dedicated as a network server is needed.

Most of the decisions will be determined by the software systems that will be running. Some are designed to run on simple peer-to-peer networks (which do not require dedicated network servers and their accompanying overhead). Check with the software provider and the venue’s in-house technology staff to ensure the proper configuration and licensing.

• What functions need to be performed? For verifying registrants and printing a minimal number of badges, a couple of notebooks and portable printers will do. If many people are registering, it might be better to hire a local provider to set up the network and load the software. I recommend contracting locally when two or three workstations are required.

Most companies charge on a per-PC or per-connection basis, plus delivery and setup fee. The expense will be offset by the reduced headaches and calls to the office to get everything working properly.

• Will an online service be used? If so, make sure the facility has enough bandwidth (high-speed service like T1 or DSL) to handle the processing needs. If all of the processing will be online, consider stand-alone workstations, each with its own connection to the Internet.

• Will wireless technology be used? For a wireless network where the user will bring his or her own equipment, including the access point or router, find out what other wireless networks might be running in the registration area. These could interfere with your network. But if there is a strong router and short distance, it will probably be OK just remember a strong firewall is needed to protect against unauthorized downloads.

Bringing your own hardware? Set up the network in the office before going to the meeting venue, and run through all the software that will be used on site. This should include a “full-load” test using the same number of workstations as you will use on site.

Always back up any software that will be used and install it on the workstation that will act as a server. Make sure to have everything that supports the software, including printer drivers or alternate drivers, if printers different from the in-house printers will be used.

Some software is dependent on inherent features built into Windows XP or other utilities that might be part of your in-house system, but not on your on-site workstations. Run through all processes and make sure everything works properly.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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