Navigating the WLAN management maze

20 management measures every vendor WLAN should provide

With enterprise-class wireless LANs well on the way to becoming the preferred -- if not default -- network access method for organizations across all industries, it's imperative that the software available to manage WLAN gear is up to the task.

Historically, management software provided by individual vendors has been the vehicle of choice for almost all installations. WLAN vendors have made significant investments in their management tools, but they can certainly do more. Moving forward, we believe, WLAN management will become the key differentiator between otherwise competitive WLAN products.

Exactly what should go into a WLAN management system, and how the resulting functionality should be presented to the user, remains a matter of some debate. Most products allow some form of policy-based definition of services available to a given user, usually by grouping users into classes and then defining privileges for these classes based on such variables as traffic priority, user location, time of day, and even class of subscriber unit.

Most products implement some degree of management services in a WLAN switch or controller, but the preferred approach is to use management software running as an application on a server or ideally an appliance. Given the large number of functional units required to construct enterprise-scale WLAN infrastructure, a centralized implementation of management functionality is essential.

Because vendors use diverse combinations of management capabilities in their product offerings, it is difficult to generalize specific classes of functionality. But the following are key system management functions that should already be included in your WLAN bundle.

1.) WLAN planning tools

Most WLAN management systems allow for the importation of building layouts via .dxf or similar files, and some, most notably Bluesocket's Wireless LANPlanner, Trapeze's RingMaster, and Motorola's LANPlanner (no relation to Bluesocket's product), allow radio-propagation properties to be assigned to elements in the resulting virtual structure. Simulations, often including 3D analysis rather than simple 2D studies of radio performance, allow for the automated placement of access points.

It is of course also important at this stage to consider throughput requirements, user and application loading, and bandwidth required for time-bounded traffic, such as voice. Unfortunately, this type of preparation usually involves manually crunching current network management logs and basing access point count and placement accordingly. We see this as a major opportunity for enhanced functionality going forward.

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