Enlisting the help of infrastructure to cope with the BYOD explosion

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Mobility is one of the key drivers of technology today, but now users are not only connecting corporate-issued laptops, but also a bevy of bring-your-own devices. Over 80% of workers surveyed bring personal devices to work, and 80% of those users are connecting them to the corporate network for work-related activities.

A sampling of BYOD user policies

This onslaught of consumer mobile devices forces IT to address connectivity, security and productivity concerns when architecting the infrastructure. Ensuring the devices can connect securely and efficiently is necessary to avoid overburdening IT staff and network resources, and once the devices are connected to the network, ensuring the devices can be productive is critical to supporting and managing these devices.

One of the biggest challenges when dealing with this explosion of smart mobile devices in the enterprise is defining what the policy is for connecting the devices to the network. Many users and administrators use "BYOD" to refer to any consumer device connected to the network. The reality is "BYOD" really only refers to devices brought in by end users to connect to the network, rather than those that are distributed by IT.

It is important to make this distinction because there is a parallel initiative facing many IT departments, dubbed the "Consumerization of IT", where IT may distribute consumer-grade devices such as tablets to lower hardware costs and increase productivity for dedicated applications like retail kiosks or electronic medical records (EMR).

In both cases, the administrator must be able to rely on network intelligence to embrace the inherent cost savings and flexibility built into these devices and contain exactly how, where and when the devices are used on the network. A comprehensive mobile device solution will need to address both Consumerization of IT and BYOD in order to support, contain and embrace the mobile device explosion.

There are really two major options when attempting to manage mobile devices connecting to the corporate network. On one side of the spectrum, there are Mobile Device Management solutions that rely on software (also known as an agent or profile) installed on the client device to implement device level controls, security parameters, and distribute resource information.

These solutions are often implemented when consumer devices are deployed by IT for a specific purpose, and when the devices need to be fully monitored, managed, controlled, and supported by IT. However, often times these software-based solutions are not palatable to end users bringing their own devices because the threat of having personal data removed or wiped from the device is not acceptable to the end user.

This means administrators must be able to rely on the network infrastructure to control devices where a software solution cannot be installed. This is the other major option for controlling and managing devices connecting to the corporate network - using the network infrastructure to implement access controls based on the identity, device type, location, and time of connection.

BYOD makes employees work extra 20 hours unpaid

This type of device management requires the network to have the intelligence and capability to implement firewall rules, quality of service policies, time-of-day access schedules, and even advanced features like tunneling policies and service-level agreements (SLA) based on the identity of the user and the device type.

Once devices are securely on the network using a combination of the above solutions, the next major step in preparing for the mobile device explosion is to ensure productivity of those devices on the network. Regardless of whether the device is distributed by IT or brought in by the employee, users will want access to available network resources.

Once again, an intelligent network infrastructure can aid in this endeavor by being service aware and providing zero-configuration services, such as Apple's Bonjour protocol for services like AirPrint, AirPlay, or file sharing apps, across the network.

Normally Bonjour services would be restricted to a single broadcast domain, VLAN, or subnet, but recently network vendors have released products that make this functionality available across large enterprise networks. This allows users to connect to printers, AppleTVs for remote display, and other resources without requiring the user to understand the intricacies of configuring complex services relying on different ports and protocols. This significantly reduces the burden on IT resources having to support the myriad of consumer devices on the network while still ensuring productivity.

Another important factor in ensuring productivity by mobile devices on the network is being able to rely on the network to provide real-time information about the connected clients and assure high performance and throughput so users can actually use the network as a primary access medium.

This requires the network infrastructure to compensate for the myriad of attached devices, with functionality like high powered radios with increased receive sensitivity to account for the lower transmit power of consumer device that want to conserve battery life, built-in client monitoring to provide visibility into the connection status of the clients, and high density features to help balance all these devices across the network.

Being able to rely heavily on network infrastructure designed from the ground-up to account for the mobile device explosion is the only way for IT departments to effectively scale to support this increased load on the network.

All in all, the most important factor when considering how to implement a network to deal with the mobility explosion is making sure your infrastructure is prepared to provide the necessary access, authentication, and security options to ensure productive and compliant use of network resources. Getting the devices onto the network, ensuring they are secure, and then making them productive is the secret to success for building a next-generation network prepared for the mobility explosion.

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