March 23, 2006



Posted: 07.04

The Tsunami Is Coming

Up to now, setting up a WLAN has been a fairly simple affair: Plug in some wires, adjust the antennas and fire up the laptop. Nothing to worry about, right? Not any more.
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By Bob Egan

The growing deployment of WLANs in the enterprise means hidden surprises await the unsuspecting CIO and IT manager. Early WLANs deployed within a single location for a single intent are now quickly growing into multi-location, multi-use WLAN realities.

There are four very distinct evolutions of wireless LANs. The first stage was largely the pre-IEEE standard days marked by incompatible systems. The second stage was the adoption of 802.11b, running 11 Mbps at 2.4GHz, hot spots, the Wi-Fi movement and poor or no security.

We’re in the midst of the third stage, which itself is complex and has three components: first, end point costs have collapsed while backend costs have skyrocketed due to security and manageability issues; second, we’re seeing faster, better, end point speeds of 802.11g/a systems up to 54 Mbps; and finally, there is some notion of “good enough” security, albeit largely through proprietary solutions.

I think the fourth stage will be marked by the focus on manageability, Quality of Service (QoS), scalability and multiple application services (MAS), including wireless voice over IP (W-VoIP).

Fourth Time’s the Charm…

Facing the multi-use realities and complexities of WLAN deployments present a clear and present danger to IT managers. Initial WLAN deployments by most organizations have a basic intent–simple, asynchronous data access to company network resources and the Internet from a few internal locations. Deployments are small almost by design. Scalability has not been considered by most, nor has it become a significant issue for most companies. Clearly, management has been an afterthought and security initiatives have been mostly reactive, chaotic and costly.

Future WLANs will grow deep roots into an enterprise infrastructure. The requirements for scalability are being driven because WLAN radio devices are being embedded in laptops, PDAs, mobile phones, printers and many other devices. This device diversity will drive demands to establish a policy-based management scheme to allocate bandwidth depending on application or user type. Dynamic load balancing will be required to accommodate fluctuating usage patterns caused by the use of multiple device types and application sets moving across many segments of the LAN.

QoS requirements will be mandatory. For example, in one area we may have three people making a W-VoIP phone call, one person participating in a video/audio Web conference, another using instant messaging, another three people browsing the Internet and everyone logged into e-mail. Of course, this all has to be secure and it has to be manageable. While it should be instinctive, it’s probably important to point out that at the core of every WLAN solution is a wired solution. Enterprises must invest in solutions that span and scan wired and wireless points of access in order to minimize the total cost of ownership.

IT managers have no great solutions to address this environment today. Tiny companies like Bluesocket, Chandry, Nomadix, Roving Planet and Airspace are driving innovation but face many challenges themselves to scale, while giant companies like Intel, HP, Cisco and Microsoft do little more then politically posture their entrenchment. Reactive deployments must give way to strategic implementations backed up by good due diligence. The conditions for the wireless LAN tsunami are staged. Don’t allow yourself to be swept away.

Bob Egan is president of Mobile Competency ( He can be reached at [email protected]
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