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Management is ‘Next Big Thing’ in WLANs

Jun 23, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Mix of vendors, capabilities emerge for WLAN management

I’m struck by how often the same themes recur across wireless LAN product categories. For the past few years, many different types of companies raced to provide security solutions in various shapes and sizes to compensate for the notorious weaknesses in Wired Equivalent Privacy.

Now with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) easing user concerns about privacy breaches, the industry has decided that tackling management of the wireless environment is the Next Big Thing. A similar cross-section of players is stepping up to the plate, including the following types of suppliers:

* Enterprise-class access-point (AP) and client-adapter makers.

* WLAN management software developers.

* Wireless gateway manufacturers.

* Traditional network management companies that have extended their products to manage wireless environments or have partnered with others to do it. This month, for example, both AirWave and Wavelink, makers of WLAN management software that can be used in multivendor AP environments, said they’ve integrated their wireless network management products with HP OpenView Network Node Manager.

Having lots of choices, of course, is desirable. But sorting out the degree of overlap among vendors can be a dizzying experience. And, depending on who the vendor is, “management” might mean any combination of the following sample capabilities:

* Automated site surveys (or elimination of them altogether, which I’ll discuss in another newsletter).

* Configuring and upgrading APs, en masse, from a centralized console.

* Detection and alerting of unauthorized (“rogue”) APs, as well as network conditions such as interference and big dips in throughput – and, possibly, dynamic correction.

* “Self-healing” properties, whereby if one AP dies, the APs around it will increase their transmit power to try to compensate for the lost coverage.

* Security, including policy management and virtual LAN enforcement; roaming; application session persistence; and quality of service.

* Troubleshooting/diagnostics.

Over the next several months, I’ll drill down into specific considerations associated with each of these functions from time to time.