Fortinet has a broad portfolio of security hardware, but a lesser known bit of freeware from the company recently caught my eye.
I just recently began working with Fortinet and have been familiarizing myself with their hardware and software. I’ve known about the company for years, but their product portfolio is pretty deep, so it was time for a closer look. Ironically, it wasn’t the ridiculously fast next gen firewalls or integrated UTM/WiFi products that initially caught my eye. It was a free Windows utility for planning wireless deployments called the “FortiPlanner WLAN Planning Tool”.
I’ve deployed a lot of wireless infrastructure over the years, especially in schools where cinder block walls, boiler rooms, and fire doors invariably made the process a matter of trial and error. Like many older buildings, few schools were meant to be wired, let alone wireless, so retrofitting access points and getting reliable signal to every corner of the building was always an adventure.
FortiPlanner doesn’t suddenly make an aging building filled with metal and concrete ready for the 21st century, but it is a slick tool for planning wireless rollouts and estimating how many access points are necessary for coverage before you start climbing around in drop ceilings and closets and hoping for the best. Obviously, the tool works for newer buildings as well, where IT staff can save money on unnecessary APs with the right planning.
FortiPlanner will look familiar to anyone who has used architectural or home design software; if not, it’s still easy to build out floor plans and draw in walls and obstacles that can interfere with wireless transmissions. From here, you can import any image file of building floor plans to act as a backdrop that you can essentially trace with the built-in drawing tools or you can just create your floorplan from scratch. If you import floor plans, you can add walls and other sources of interference. Here’s a completed floorplan. Note the Auto Placement button in the ribbon that calculated optimal locations of APs noted on the floorplan:
Note that you can actually assign properties to walls, windows, and doors based on their thickness and associated interference:
This is where things get much more interesting. Click the Reports tab and the Project Deployment Planner button to select from several possible reports. This tool can automatically generate a list of recommended access points, their optimal locations, and maps for actually walking to the right spots in the building and installing the APs. Here is the report dialog:
There are, of course, a few caveats: ● The output is only as good as the model you create, so it’s worth investing the time to build out an accurate, complete map ● The tool is designed around Fortinet Access Points, which are optimized for coverage, signal strength, etc., so trying to substitute other APs (especially consumer-grade APs) will likely not provide the expected coverage or client capacity.
Those caveats aside, if you’re considering a new wireless deployment or are already a Fortinet partner designing networks for clients, FortiPlanner is worth far more than its freeware price tag would suggest.