CA preps wireless site management software

Computer Associates International previewed Monday at its user show in Las Vegas a new tool for managing wireless networks that early users say provides critical monitoring and security functionality.

CA's Wireless Site Management (WSM), now in beta testing and expected to be widely available later this year, draws on technology from CA's security and management product lines to create a stand-alone tool for protecting wireless LANs. The software automatically generates and distributes encryption keys, allowing administrators to rotate keys as often as they like without requiring users to manually change their settings. WSM also allows administrators to establish access perimeters and detect rogue devices on their networks.

As a monitoring tool, WSM tracks and manages network performance, generating reports and handling load balancing. The software can help administrators meet SLAs (service-level agreements). One tester, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Chief Information Officer (CIO) Maurice Ficklin, said he's using WSM to prioritize network traffic, ensuring that voice packets take precedence over data.

Ficklin has been working with WSM for several months, and is using it to replace a jury-rigged system for securing his university's wireless network. Previously, he relied on static IP (Internet Protocol) and MAC (Media Access Control) addresses to allow devices to tap into the network. Now, WSM lets him push out encryption keys and fine-tune the network security practices.

Universal Health Services CIO Linda Reino has been running a pilot project with WSM at George Washington University Hospital, one of several dozen facilities in her company's network. Reino sees wireless networks as essential to modern health care, but said she had grave concerns about putting wireless in a hospital that's part of a university campus filled with clever students eager to poke around on any network they can break into.

So far, though, WSM has handled the challenges. Reino appreciates the software's ability to adjust polices for small geographic areas: She can allow devices in the Intensive Care unit to access one network, while giving devices in the Emergency department access to an entirely separate network.

In the months she's been testing WSM, most of her feedback to CA has been about easing the software's usability and installation. Reino would like to roll WSM out to all of Universal Health Services' sites within the next few years, but "it's not going to do us any good to put wireless at our facilities if you have to have a rocket scientist to run it." Centralization features are also critical. Reino wants to be able to do as much network management as possible from her company's King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, headquarters.

CA has been very responsible to her suggestions, Reino said: "They've been very easy to work with, and they're addressing the areas we've asked about."

CA Chief Technology Officer Yogesh Gupta said pricing information will be available when WSM moves to general availability. Reino and Ficklin said they're not paying licensing fees as part of the beta, but both said they're optimistic their organizations will invest in the software.

"I've already cast my vote for it," Reino said.

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