Toughest Job in IT: Managing the Wireless Network

Michael Vizard
Slide Show

Nine Steps to Securing Your Wireless Network

Steps you can take to protect your wireless network.

It turns out that one of the hardest jobs in all of IT has become managing the wireless network. With the advent of tablet devices that are largely being brought into the enterprise by employees, the number of endpoints on the network is increasing and the radio antennas that have been built into those devices are substantially underpowered compared to the antenna used in a notebook.

Nowhere is that more apparent than the Apple iPad, says Steven Wastie, chief marketing officer for Xirrus, a provider of wireless network equipment. The data transfer rate for an iPad is 65Mbps compared to the 300Mbps or 450Mbps maximum for a typical laptop accessing an 802.11n wireless network. That means that IT organizations supporting tablet devices such as the Apple iPad can expect to need to deploy more radios in order for their access points to provide enough spectrum to support end users that are just as likely to have a notebook, tablet device and smartphone all searching for bandwidth from the same access point. Multiply that problem by hundreds of end users roaming about a building or a campus and the implications for congestion problems become suddenly clear.

In fact, Wastie argues that the influx of mobile computing devices is going to wind up forcing many IT organizations to replace their existing wireless network infrastructure in favor of systems that provide higher levels of radio density. In the case of Xirrus, that means deploying a wireless network architecture that uses a Xirrus access point to make available as many as 16 radio antennas per access point. Those radios can also be directionally controlled, which means that they can be aimed at a specific area where there is a large number of end users trying to access the networks. That approach, says Wastie, means that IT organizations can manage wireless network congestion without having to physical deploy and manage hundreds of access points.

IT organizations are also going to want to prioritize what devices get access to the most bandwidth. There is usually 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands available. But Apple iPads default to 5GHz when available. Some organizations may deem it prudent to make sure that laptop users get priority access to an access point on the assumption that the applications on the laptop might be more business critical than what is being used on the tablet or smartphone.

No matter how you look at it, mobile computing is making wireless networking more complex to manage. Most end users, unfortunately, are going to judge the IT department by the quality of the wireless networking experience no matter how proficient. For example, the company's SAP software may be running in the data center. That means that boosting the perception of the value of the internal IT department and making sure that radio spectrum is sufficiently allocated across the wireless network are rapidly becoming major new IT imperatives.

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