It's time for the annual bout of soul-searching and goal setting that heralds the start of the new year. Here are five recommendations for wireless network pros to make the new year better for our networks and users.
1. Stop thinking of the WLAN as an accessory to the wired network
If you have deep roots in the WLAN network game, your first wireless deployment likely amounted to a network of APs and clients that were treated differently from your Ethernet environment. Perhaps you required wireless users to log in through a Web portal or connect via VPN, and then had a separate set of access rules for this group of clients. Or maybe you've gone to 802.1x but still keep your wireless clients in a segregated, second-class IP space. Those models were appropriate for their day, but times and use cases have changed.
From the client perspective, there is nothing that a well-designed WLAN can't do that a wired network can. Elevating the WLAN to first-class status lets us better manage IP space, opens a slew of possibilities for your clients, and helps stem the flow of funding to Ethernet hardware that is likely growing more idle at the access layer.
2. Update your wireless policies
Wireless connectivity has evolved from a nice-to-have option to the default access method in many organizations, and much of that evolution has been driven by mobile devices. Default wireless access changes a lot of things, such as client demands, security concerns and how wireless paradigms add to corporate bottom lines. Many of the safe "though shalt not" edicts of five years ago now make for stale or self-defeating policies, and if yours hasn't been updated in the last eighteen months, you have some work to do.
BYOD was a hot topic in 2012 as IT organizations grappled with various aspects of business and networking. For instance, last year saw a dustup over Apple's inability to play nice in the enterprise with Bonjour-based utilities that customers are clamoring to use in the workplace. Different vendors (Aerohive, for example) are trying to provide an interim solution while Apple gets its act together. Such dustups are likely to continue in 2013.
3. Broaden your client horizons
If you support a population that only uses iPhones and a specific model of laptop, you can get away with focusing exclusively on those platforms. The rest of us have to face the challenge that not all devices or operating systems respond equally to the same WLAN settings.
I'm not suggesting you buy one of everything that shows up in the mobile world, but I do marvel at those in the support business who respond to Android trouble tickets when they have zero experience with any Android platform. You can spend a little and learn a lot about how multiple devices operate. You and your clients will be better for it.
4. Join and use a variety of support communities
From the Aruba Networks' Airheads group to the Mac Enterprise community, there are dozens of support sites where IT professionals share their daily challenges and triumphs with many of the same issues that all of us face in our duties. These resources can be force multipliers when your own staff is thin on expertise in a given hardware set or network application, and provide benefits for those who join and participate. One of my favorites is the Certified Wireless Network Professional forum.
5. Use social media to build your knowledge and support skills
In many environments, formal help desk frameworks are being shunned by users who prefer simply to tweet that something is amiss and then get on with their lives. While this can be maddening to those who need real information to respond to issues, there is a silver lining to social media. Pretty much any vendor, integrator or ancillary organization that has anything to do with wireless networking (and other tech sectors) use Twitter and Facebook to spread information to customers and share knowledge with their colleagues (and even competitors at times).
If you aren't using social media for work, you're missing out. From product and bug announcements to how-to from industry experts, social media has a professional relevance that has to be experienced to be believed. If you need a place to start, you can follow me on Twitter at @wirednot. While you're at it, check out @networkcomputing, too.
Happy New Year to all, and here's hoping for a prosperous, exciting 2013!