Spurred by mobile, rethinking the wireless LAN

Mobile devices and sensors are eating up WLAN bandwidth -- and forcing a rethink of Wi-Fi in business

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Worse, most wireless LANs aren't actively managed, even using basic technologies such as Wi-Fi sniffers and the WIPS intrusion prevention protocol, so companies have no strong clue as to who or what is using them. That raises security issues, of course, but it also brings up network management issues such as understanding usage patterns to be able to manage the wirless LAN and the wired backbone supporting it for quality of service (QoS).

How to rethink your wireless LAN
Borg says the steps needed to make your wireless LAN responsive, reliable, and secure even as the demands on it grow are straightforward.

First, manage it centrally with your wired LAN. In fact, treat the two as one LAN, both in terms of management tools and the people you have manage and run them. Bringing together wired and wireless experts not only allows for a better designed and managed network, it usually reduces costs, Borg says. Bringing together the networks does not mean having to standardize on one vendor's technology, he notes -- many network management tools are designed to manage vendor heterogeneity, whch he says is a natural consequence of growth and acquisition and so should be assumed in your management tool choices.

The management should not just be of the technology but of the policies around access and utilization. Prioritize access based on both applications and type of users: critical applications such as your transaction and unified communication applications should get priority over noncritical ones, such as Web access and perhaps some intranet services.

Likewise, users who rely on wireless access for work that direcly matters to your economics -- such as field workers and sales staff -- should get priority over users for whom wireless access is a nice-to-have extra. Implement a "fair use" strategy that doesn't let individual people or applications hog network resources -- and ensure the network is designed for the legitimate hogs, as their appetities will only grow.

Second, implement 802.11n networks wherever possible. They carry more data than the 802.11b and 802.11g networks commonly installed, and they tend to have larger range. Borg suggests companies experiencing bottlenecks at the wireless edge invest in a "forklift" upgrade of their wireless equpment to 802.11n and that companies invest in doing the radio analysis to understand how best to deploy the access points and routers; not doing so can create bottlenecks that reduce the performance of the entire network. He also says it's critical to beef up the backbone, so you don't transfer performance bottlenecks from the wireless edge into the wired core.

Third, be sure to actively monior your network not just for security purposes but for performance, so you can adjust both network resources and utilization policies as needed for the optimal result (what Borg calls "quality of experience"). Because what is optimal can change over time, Borg says it's important to keep analyzing your network over time, not just when you first decide to rework it.

None of Aberdeen's advice is particularly novel: It's what IT should do for any important asset. But many IT organizations didn't consider Wi-Fi to be important and did just a "good enough" deployment. The world has changed, and it's time to reclassify the wireless LAN as a key information technology asset -- and manage it accordingly. You'll get a better network and lower costs if you do.

This article, "Spurred by mobile, rethinking the wireless LAN," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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