Navigating the WLAN management maze

20 management measures every vendor WLAN should provide

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Extending the function of the management system as might be desired by a given installation via APIs, XML or similar techniques will increase the value of the products in increasingly complex enterprise environments. We're already seeing XML being put to greater use, for example in the AirWave Management Platform (see review of AirWave platform) and in Bluesocket's management suite. We even believe that XML could begin to replace SNMP, and become the basis for the next generation of unified management tools.

4.) Extensions to 802.11

A number of Working Groups within 802.11 are developing new standards that will impact the services that WLAN management systems offer. Among the most important are 802.11v (station management) and 802.11w (protected management frames), but most upcoming additions to the standard will have an impact on WLAN management systems. The current crop of additions should be completed within two years, but we see no end in sight to activity within 802.11 anytime soon.

5.) Mobile device management

Extending network management to the very edge of the network – to the individual mobile device and its user – will also become increasingly important over the next few years. Such functions as initial configuration, configuration monitoring and verification, device security and integrity, device backup and lockdown, and even "zapping" (bulk erasing over the air) will also eventually become part of core network management systems.

The bad news is that this advance may take a while – mobile device management is implemented today as a separate and distinct function unrelated to wireless (or wired) LAN management, and vendor product managers need to look at network management as a continuum from device to server in order for this evolution to take place.

6.) Unified management

Finally, it's time to stop thinking wired and wireless LAN and focus just on the LAN with a unified management strategy. While this is a very important direction, it is difficult to achieve because of the huge range of network products on the market (or otherwise installed), the large amount of code to be written, and the need for inter-vendor cooperation, difficult to obtain in a highly competitive market like networking equipment. This problem is best resolved via an industry consortium, and we believe such an organization will eventually be formed.

Conclusion

As basic radio and WLAN technologies begin to mature, product differentiation will most easily derive from system architecture and management-system features. While the former can only be evaluated only via performance benefits (which can be very difficult indeed to evaluate), the cost savings realized through robust and easy-to-use management functionality can make a real difference to organizations of any size. Good management systems, again, minimize operational expense, which can be much greater than the capital expense involved in purchasing the system to begin with.

The key, then, to successful WLAN deployments, and thus the installation and operation of what is rapidly becoming the primary and default access for users everywhere, is to get operations staff involved in RFP creation and equipment evaluation as early as possible. And what's key to them? Why, WLAN management, of course.

Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless networking and mobile communications. He is an internationally known consultant, author, and analyst, and serves on the advisory boards of three industry events. He is also a regular columnist for two publications, including Computerworld, and his blog, Nearpoints, resides at Network World. He can be reached at craig@farpointgroup.com.

NW Lab Alliance

Mathias is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.networkworld.com/alliance.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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