As employees begin to arrive back to work following the holidays, an increasing number of IT organizations are going to find out just how limited their wireless networks really are in the age of BYOD.
Most wireless networks were deployed as secondary networks that were intended to support a limited number of devices. Going into 2013, it’s becoming clear that not only will each user probably have multiple devices competing for bandwidth on these networks, but the wireless network will increasingly become the primary network for accessing corporate applications.
According to Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley, this fundamental shift in wireless network usage is not only going to require a major upgrade, it will shift the management of those networks into the cloud. Xirrus, an early pioneer of wireless networks that can be managed via the cloud, is gearing up for increased competition in this space from Cisco, which earlier this year agreed to acquire Meraki, a rival provider of a cloud-based wireless networking platform. According to Buckley, the core difference between Xirrus and Meraki is that Xirrus is designed to support enterprise networks at scale, while Meraki is a solution that’s more appropriate to small-to-medium businesses (SMBs).
Regardless of the approach, the one thing that Buckley says that most organizations are unprepared for is the amount of bandwidth that the latest generation of mobile computing devices can consume, especially Apple iPad devices. The end result is that as users roam across already fragile wireless networks, they wind up competing with each other for bandwidth that is already highly constrained.
Worse yet, most of those networks don’t make any differentiation between corporate applications and people trying to access video from, for example, ESPN.com. By moving the management of wireless networks into the cloud, IT organizations gain more flexibility because the control plane no longer needs to be tied to the controllers and access points on the wireless network, which in turn Buckley says makes it easier to dynamically allocate bandwidth where needed.
There’s clearly a war brewing for control over the next generation of wireless networks, many of which will become primary rather than secondary networks in the enterprise in 2013. How that will play out is anybody’s guess at this point. But, in 2013, end users are going to judge IT organizations by the quality of their wireless networking experience — regardless of how fair or unfair that may be — within the limitations of an existing wireless network that was never really designed to support increasing bandwidth demands.