Determining WLAN management: Factors to consider

Determining best WLAN management requires additional considerations, including the technology curve extent and deciding between on premises or cloud.

In the fifth part of this series, we discussed evaluating the necessary wireless LAN requirements in order to successfully deploy a WLAN solution in your enterprise. In this sixth part, we discuss factors to consider when evaluating WLAN management, including on-premises versus cloud management.

If a fat-AP, controller-less WLAN represents the next evolution of an actual network, what does that say about WLAN management tools? This next generation of deploying WLAN as the primary access network requires thorough consideration of the details when it comes to wireless LAN management.

One of the biggest factors to consider is whether to go with WLAN management via the cloud or on premises. A key consideration that would affect your decision to use a cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS) solution instead of going the on-premises route is the reliability of your connections. If connectivity to the site where your admin sits goes down, then he or she can't manage your solution even if the rest of the sites on the WAN were still up. Of course, if the solution is SaaS-based, a smartphone or tablet with cellular data services could provide an immediate workaround (assuming the tool has an interface workable from a mobile device).

More on WLAN management

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However, companies have concerns with using SaaS for wireless LAN management. The majority of enterprises (58.3%) identify data security, confidentiality and privacy as the main limiting factor to SaaS adoption. Meanwhile, 20.8% say loss of control and variability of cost and performance is the main problem, 8.3% point to a lack of trust in cloud service providers, and 4.2% say the cost is limiting adoption.

These considerations need to be balanced with the advantages of having a console that can be used via any device with a browser and a connection. Additionally, outsourcing a tactical operation (hosting the management system) frees up staff time for more strategic operations like documenting WLAN requirements for mobile devices and applications. Today, 75% of companies use some form of managed, hosted or cloud services, and 58% of companies report they expect a usage increase in 2013.

Sealing the deal on WLAN management: Final factors to consider

Creating a successful "WLAN-first" architecture requires answering the following WLAN management questions:

Where are you on the technology curve?

Do you want to deploy the latest and greatest WLAN management technology for competitive gain, or do you prefer to deploy more established technologies? Each approach carries risks. Your answer will depend on your overall attitude toward adopting new technology and how you balance risk with potential gain.

Should I use on-premises/cloud/managed services?

Where should the management of my solution live? What about my apps? Who should manage them and to what extent? Many companies integrate a mix of on-premises, hosted and managed services as part of a wireless LAN management strategy. For example, fat-APs are definitely on premises, but all supporting technology like Mobile Device Management (MDM), Mobile Application Management (MAM), Secure Document Repository (SDR) and directory services can live in the cloud. Your answer is likely to include your response to outsourcing tactical operations, and confidence in carriers and cloud service providers to maintain uptime similar to what you have internally, as well as to be sufficiently responsive to your changing needs.

More from Philip Clarke

Read the rest of his tips on evaluating enterprise WLAN considerations

What is the cost and benefit of your technology?

Are there clear benefits to using the technology? In most cases, the answer is yes, but in certain instances, companies don't use much in the way of mobility or apps. Adding new WLAN functionality or providing WLAN as your primary access technology is dependent on the amount of mobility your workforce uses or prefers, as well as whatever wired LAN costs you may face as you expand, move, build or update facilities. What business processes can you improve and in what ways? What costs can you reduce or avoid? Your answers will define your ability to translate your technology investment into tangible business benefits.

How do I get there from here?

How can the solutions you are buying for tomorrow integrate into what you have today? Defining the current and roadmap technologies that are affected by the WLAN will help describe: a) which systems are affected and to what extent, and b) what can be done to reduce negative effects and/or enhance positive ones.

Will it be a rip-and-replace or gradual migration? Replacing WLAN infrastructure can be done gradually, though during the transition time, you may not be able to make all of the desired functionality available throughout the infrastructure. Therefore, the extent of functional impairment and potential risk introduced has to be evaluated. Avoiding these problems may require a rip-and-replace approach, at least on a site-by-site basis.

Note: The research cited in this series is from Nemertes Research's 2012/13 Communications and Computing Research Benchmark, conducted through conversations with benchmark participants from IT organizations between January 2012 and April 2012.

About the author:
Philip Clarke is a research analyst at Nemertes Research, where he is a co-leader of the Wireless and Mobility research track. He advises clients on wireless topics, writes key trends and thought leadership reports, conducts statistical analysis and develops research reports.

This was first published in January 2013

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