Wireless LAN technologies promise many positives, including flexible network availability and enhanced client mobility. But never do wireless proponents claim the unwired environment will be easy to manage.
"A network management system that only handles wired will be of little value going forward, and vendors realize customers want all the functions of a wired net in their wireless rollout," says Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group. "Management will be the hottest topic in wireless over the next two years."
WLAN management today
WLAN management products today primarily come from wireless equipment vendors. Companies such as Aruba Networks, Cisco, Meru Networks and Trapeze top the minds of industry watchers who say these vendors provide the most up-to-date technology available to manage wireless environments -- as long as the environment is vendor-specific.
"Equipment vendors manage their own wireless because most companies have standardized on a single WLAN vendor, but that can be good or bad going forward," says Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of enterprise research at Yankee Group. "Wired nets can be mostly standardized too, but management software for wired covers heterogeneous environments. Multi-vendor WLAN management needs to be improved upon to start."
Heterogeneous WLAN management could be coming since Aruba Networks picked up AirWave Wireless, a somewhat vendor-agnostic WLAN management company, earlier this year. Yet industry watchers doubt the trend will take off across all WLAN vendors or third-party software makers.
"Most of the management solutions are directly tied to the wireless product, and they are decent for what they do," says Brad Noblet, an independent consultant. "It is difficult for vendors to develop an independent solution because wireless technology advances quickly, and vendors want to keep an edge with their tools, so integration with third-parties might not be top of mind."
Vendors must also hone their security skills as more enterprise network managers are looking to link their WLAN management strategy directly with security initiatives such as network access control and policy-based management. Vendors today are enabling security capabilities to tie back into the wired network, therefore increasing protection for both environments.
"People in network management went the extra mile on incorporating security into WLAN management," Kerravala says.
For instance, wireless vendors have the technology to detect a rogue access point, disable the port it is tied to and prevent that access point or any clients using it from gaining unauthorized access.
"Managing wireless must combine security and then tie it back to the wired LAN solution," says Chris Silva, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. "The [most] common complaints of wireless are reliability and security -- and the costs -- so if vendors can provide more reliability and show consistency of connection as well as ensure robust security, customers will feel less uncertain of where they stand with their WLAN."