5 steps to bring together the wired and wireless in today's mobile enterprise

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

With the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and notebooks, and the increasing availability of mobile apps and services, both personal and corporate, the line between consumer and business user has blurred.

The typical enterprise workers expect to be able to access their email and corporate resource from their Android phone, have a videoconference on their iPad, update their sales presentation on their laptop, get corporate email on their iPhone, and do it from their home, conference room, office docking station or anywhere on the road.

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Fortunately, today's marketplace has all of the products, tools and techniques required for an enterprise of any size and in any industry to provide a unified wired/wireless architecture to make the most of mobility.

A recent study from ZK Research revealed that enterprises are typically spending 83% of overall IT budgets on supporting and maintaining existing IT, assets, processes and SLAs. IT needs to consider an efficient fabric-based computing approach to maximize return on IT assets (virtualization, wireless and wired networking) and predictably deliver applications to mobile users at any scale with the highest level of security.

Here are a few basic steps to consider when bringing existing IT fabrics into a single end-to-end network fabric.

Step 1: Think big picture

The key to delivering a unified edge for your network is to have both deep visibility as well as a holistic view of the entire network. If you can tell who the users are, what device they are using, where they are connected and which apps are being used, you have the opportunity to manage and control the user experience. A critical factor in achieving this is the ability to create unified policies that allow the network to deterministically understand the access request and provision the connection correctly.

Knowing which user, device, application or connection point has the problem, gives you the ability to immediately resolve the issue. More importantly, predictably detecting all of these varying combinations of user, device, app and access, allows the edge to securely and deterministically provision bandwidth, access, and network flow to proactively prevent a network problem, as well as provide the ability to scale the system load in an orderly fashion. By creating one network environment, enterprises can provide a consistent application experience while offering centralized visibility and control over the entire network.

Step 2: Plan for a BYOD environment

BYOD environments are increasingly becoming the norm and an important enabler of employee productivity and improved user experience. However, a major barrier to adoption is the lack of confidence that IT can cost-effectively address the potential risk of unauthorized access.

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Enterprises can eliminate this concern by deploying a BYOD solution that provides end-to-end visibility and granular control of application delivery, usage of devices, and network resources. With this approach, both end users and IT professionals to reap the many benefits of BYOD -- increased mobility, higher job satisfaction, improvements in efficiency and productivity, and a reduction in end-user device management, troubleshooting and support.

In addition, to further secure an enterprise's network in a BYOD environment, a range of services is now available from network vendors that include guaranteed services offerings, successful and timely installations, integration with any mobile device management (MDM) solution, VDI deployments and threat management for secure BYOD deployments.

Step 3: Evaluate current architectures for scalability

When creating a unified wired/wireless environment, it is imperative to ensure both wired and wireless architectures have the flexibility and scalability to support the expansion of a wireless LAN. There is no point, after all, in deploying a contemporary WLAN if one is unable to realize its benefits due to bottlenecks in the core. If the WLAN will be growing in geographic scope, range of function, and sheer volume of data, it is also vital that wired infrastructure be carefully examined for its ability to handle this load. When considering a network redesign, examining the role of the WLAN provides an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate the status of the routers, switches and related equipment upon which the WLAN depends. [Also see: "Designing 'iPad WLANs' poses new, renewed challenges"]

Step 4: Configuring and tuning for optimal performance

The next element in engineering a unified network environment is configuring and tuning the wireless LAN for the specific traffic mix present in any given organization. First, users need to understand and apply the facilities available in a given WLAN product to define both class and quality of service. Properly configuring the parameters can yield huge returns in overall performance and, in turn, end-user productivity.

The essential nature of the radio channel (the wireless physical layer, not necessarily a specific Wi-Fi channel) and the instantaneous traffic requirements in terms of volume and mix in any given location are both highly variable, making the optimization of enterprise wireless LANs for capacity potentially quite complex. While backup and bulk file transfers remain important, most traffic involves a high volume of relatively short transactions, with one notable emerging exception being streaming video. But as this capability can be adjusted for resolution and frame rate in most cases, matching the availability of network capacity, and with little impact on users or the value of the video content, it's important to use management facilities regularly to evaluate overall performance to optimize for overall capacity. [Also see: "Gartner: Big challenges lurk in building enterprise wireless networks"]

Step 5: Install management tools for ROI

Perhaps the most vital -- and often overlooked -- element in creating a unified wired/wireless network is management. Many enterprises still maintain separate access layer networks dedicated to specific tasks. These networks are by definition not integrated and utilize different management tools, which increases the management burden for IT along with increased capital and operational costs.

The complexity of integrating disparate management tools across wired and wireless deployments, lack of holistic visibility into the system causing longer troubleshooting and remediation times, as well as multiple vendor integration problems, can increase manpower requirements fourfold.

Unified policy management and common databases can now allow a single IT staff to deploy and manage the edge simply, and scale to thousands of users. Network engineers can see all the devices, users, apps and policies that make up access to your network. These intuitive, straightforward views help pinpoint individual users and potential trouble spots, so you can quickly identify and remedy any network challenge -- from the edge to the core of the network.

Delivering a future-proofed unified wired/wireless edge solution is now more important than ever as it allow businesses to improve agility and responsiveness yet keep costs inline. By addressing the network infrastructure between the application and its end-users as a single system, as opposed to a combination of pieces and parts, will provide a powerful, yet simple framework to manage the chaos of today's diverse, consumerized mobile workforce.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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