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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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The New Mobile Enterprise: A Smorgasbord Of Choices

As wireless technologies take precedence in the enterprise, WLANs have become complex deployments. Here's a look at the evolving array of wireless options.

If there ever was a phrase at risk for marketing overuse, it would be “next generation.” But in terms of the mobile enterprise, it’s worth talking about what the next generation is all about. It’s not just hardware, and it’s not just software. Next-generation wireless and mobility amounts to culture and a mindset, and means something a bit different for each of us.

Not so long ago, any wireless evolution dubbed “next gen” mostly started and ended with new wireless access points and faster data rates. Everything upstream from the access point was fairly static, and much slower to evolve. Client devices got refreshed with faster radios, but authentication and encryption mechanisms crawled forward and a WLAN stayed mostly an accessory to the LAN for a lot of years. But those days are gone, and now next-generation enterprise mobility means much more, giving companies a wide range of choices.

In simplest terms, any comprehensive mobility strategy will involve Wi-Fi, mobile devices, role-based access, and will reflect the growing importance of ubiquitous connectivity. At the infrastructure level, next-gen wireless can be a single-vendor technology or a combination of different services from different vendors. It may have cloud elements, extensions of carrier networks, location and analytics services, and global reach. The options are many, reaching deeper into the corners of our business operations, regardless of what business we’re in.

Today’s WLAN systems might be cloud-managed with only access points to install, or could be controller-based with a rack full of management servers of various types riding shotgun. 802.11ac is the hot story right now, but even here the nuance of Wave 1 versus Wave 2 creates a need to weigh your options.

Then there is small cell technology, with which your WLAN system or dedicated hardware might help spread mobile networks deeper into your corporate premises if you have the demand. Increased mobility means more and newer devices on ceilings, walls, rooftops and poles. We all have common needs, but our final topologies might be quite varied.

At the device end of the next-generation mobile environment, we find a number of growing trends. Mobile device management (MDM) has become its own market, and a lot of money goes into the systems that manage what mobile endpoints are allowed to do. Mobile apps comprise a boom industry that dovetails with MDM, but don't require it. Apps can be “nice-to-haves,” but can also be the engines that make a mobile workforce successful.

Beyond infrastructure and client device considerations, full-on productivity and collaboration suites and unified communications round out the more ambitious and integrated next-gen mobile environments. With both Ethernet and the desktop PC becoming increasingly irrelevant, the stakes get higher for robust mobile services. Then there all of the consumer-grade devices dragged onto the enterprise WLAN in the name of BYOD. Some will fit your organizational needs, and some will not, yet they all need to be managed as part of your mobile strategy.

[Get tips for buying the right WLAN in "How To Shop For A WLAN: 7 Steps."]

As you can see, it’s a new day for mobility as wireless technologies take their place among most organizations’ highest valued assets. Looking forward, among the hottest new layers to the mobility cake are analytics and location services. The data sets gleaned from wireless client devices moving around a wireless space have become supremely valuable in providing a wealth of information as WLAN owners -- especially in the retail space -- seek to leverage their infrastructure investment in innovative ways. Indoor mapping, iBeacons, and targeted services all help monetize the WLAN, and the many ways these can be used are just beginning to be tapped.

The same could be said for the use of social media credentials as a network login mechanism for mobile devices. Even non-retail and hospitality networks are finding value in going this route, although it can be controversial for a number of environments.

Hovering in the background of all these new developments in the mobile enterprise are security concerns, of which there are many. With mobile being used as the access method of choice for an increasing number of medical and financial applications, the importance of regulatory compliance can’t be overstated, along with the raft of more traditional wireless security concerns. Wireless is everywhere, and where it goes, so does your organizational reputation. From wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS) capabilities to client configuration management, there is much to be managed in order to secure the mobile side of your operations.

Overwhelmed? Next-generation enterprise mobility is a big topic. But you’re not alone, and there’s a lot of expertise out there to lean on. I'll talk about all of this and more in my session "From BYOD to 802.11ac: How to Build A Next-Generation Mobile Infrastructure" at Interop Las Vegas March 31-April 4. I hope to see you there!

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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