WLAN Management Considerations

Wireless LANs are certainly the wave of the future for enterprise networking.
Everywhere you look, there is a company deploying a WLAN into their daily operations.
And as they do so, many companies are finding out that they must now manage
it.

If an organization can not effectively manage their WLAN, benefits quickly
diminish and it becomes more of a cost burden than savings. This is where network
management software comes into play. Wireless network management software gives
a company the ability to get the best possible performance and tightest security
from their WLAN.

WLANs have Different Needs

WLANs are built on technology that is fundamentally different than that of
wired networks. As a result, you can not manage WLANs in the same way. Plus,
the ever evolving security challenges and technological innovations of WLANs
make wireless management software even more of a necessity.

Wireless network management software will let you get the maximum performance
from your WLAN, while making it as secure as possible. For example, management
software will constantly monitor every access point in a WLAN, giving instant
feedback so a network administrator can constantly tweak the wireless network,
keeping it as fast and secure as possible.

Identifying Rogue Access Points

Analysts estimate that 30% or more of access points in enterprise settings
are unsecured, rogue access
points. Employees deploy most of these access points for personal benefit, but
the access points can unintentionally make the network vulnerable to attacks
by hackers. Manual detection of rogue access points can be very expensive and
time-consuming, as well as not very thorough.

Wireless network management software, on the other hand, can automatically
detect every rogue access point and pin-point its location, saving money and
dramatically improving security. The software locates the rogue access points
by examining all of the routers and switches in the network and applies a series
of tests and filters to determine which access points are supposed to be on
the network and which are rogue.

Monitoring Authorized Access Points

It is necessary to constantly monitor access point settings to ensure that
they remain in compliance with current security policies and are performing
well. Wireless network management software continuously monitors all of the
access points in the network and alerts the IT staff if anything strange is
going on. The IT staff can set the performance and security thresholds at any
value they wish and change them at any time.

The management software can produce detailed WLAN performance reports, giving
the IT staff a way to review and fine-tune the network. Some software packages
also have auto-repair features, which automatically return the access points
to their proper settings.

Attributes to Consider

Many companies are now offering WLAN management tools, such as AirWave,
Computer Associates, Cisco,
Symbol, and Wavelink
(and others). When evaluating WLAN management software, there are certain attributes
that distinguish a superior management solution. Consider the following features
when shopping for WLAN management software:

  • Centralization. The software should allow you to control everything
    from a central location. A network administrator should be able to perform
    activities such as configuration and monitoring of infrastructure, changing
    access point settings, and firmware upgrades from one terminal.
  • Multiple Vendor Support. The software should support access point
    hardware from a variety of vendors, allowing system design flexibility.
  • Flexibility. Easy upgradeable software is a definite plus. Software
    that can not change with the times is a poor investment.
  • Easy Integration with Existing Network Infrastructure. It is always
    good when a product can integrate with a legacy system, because the company
    does not lose its existing investment. The software must also be able to integrate
    seamlessly with other network management software, such as HP’s
    OpenView
    .
  • Ease of Use. The software must have a user friendly operating environment,
    be easy to navigate, and provide adequate help when needed.
  • Automation. When configuration changes are needed, the software must
    be able to automatically implement the changes over large groups of access
    points. This will eliminate the chance for human error and ensure uniform
    implementation of the changes.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies
developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the
book, Wireless LANs and
offers workshops
on deploying WLANs.

Join Jim for discussions as he answers questions in the 802.11 Planet Forums.

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