Evaluating business and technology needs for a robust enterprise WLAN

It is crucial to assess business and technology issues driving the need for a robust and capable enterprise WLAN to support a new mobile workforce.

Technology and business needs are rapidly changing due to the increase of mobility in the enterprise. Whether driven by employees bringing in mobile devices, or finding new agile ways to be more productive, mobility is changing the way enterprises work.

In this series of expert articles by Philip Clarke, a research analyst at Nemertes Research, the issues you need to consider when you're in the planning and beginning stages of deploying an enterprise wireless LAN (WLAN) architecture are addressed. These include:

  • Understanding the necessary steps in planning a WLAN architecture upgrade;
  • Knowing the benefits and challenges of using a WLAN for primary access to your network for some subsets of mobile workers, rather than wired Ethernet;
  • Necessary WLAN architecture support components;
  • Questions to ask vendors when choosing a WLAN solution;
  • Evaluating your organization's WLAN requirements and;
  • determining how to manage your WLAN after deployment.

Assessing the enterprise wireless LAN for the new mobile workforce

As employees become more mobile, businesses are re-evaluating the way they look at Wi-Fi. It is important for enterprise IT to weigh whether Wi-Fi is robust enough to provide primary access to the company network -- at least for some employees -- and understand why it is necessary to deploy.

Assessment should include the understanding that more employees are using mobile devices for tasks including unified communications and social networking, as well as collaboration with other employees. To be effective, an enterprise WLAN must be capable enough to handle all of these uses, as well as access to applications and data systems. Overall, it is essential to carefully assess and plan an enterprise WLAN upgrade to ensure it can handle the pressure mobile devices and wireless access to applications put on the network.

Read more on assessing the enterprise WLAN.

Benefits of WLAN infrastructure as the primary access network

If a business is wary about deploying WLAN architecture as the primary access network, understanding the benefits it has on both a business and technology front could help move that decision along.

While these benefits vary by industry, some business benefits may include cost reduction from running a single network instead of two parallel networks or more Opex-based costs rather than Capex purchases. Meanwhile providing secure device management using network access control (NAC) and application and performance optimization improvement can provide the rationale needed for a WLAN investment.

Read more about the benefits of WLAN infrastructure.

WLAN architecture considerations to support a mobile workforce

Although an enterprise WLAN can provide many benefits to a business, network engineers need to make sure WLANs are properly designed with new types of access control and application optimization.

In order to do so, understanding the basics of WLAN control and its components, like the 802.11x standard, NACs, and virtual private networks (VPNs), is key. Additionally, the potential for using proprietary extensions like Band Steering and Quality of Service (QoS) could contribute to the necessary aspects of WLAN architecture management.

With all of the moving parts of a WLAN, network engineers need to build a WLAN architecture that can handle the demanding application and mobile functionalities. Whether it's personal and business apps like Skype, Facebook and LinkedIn or mobile operating systems like Apple's iOS, a "WLAN first" architecture must be able to handle it all.

Read more about WLAN architecture considerations.

Ten questions to ask WLAN vendors when evaluating WLAN solutions

Once a mobility and application plan is in place, there are several important questions to ask WLAN vendors when evaluating a WLAN solution for your business. These include: Who are the vendor's key partners? What standards does the provider support? What options are available to manage the solution? What security controls does the vendor offer?

Asking these questions up front can save time and stress when it comes to finding the best fit for your organization's needs when deploying an enterprise WLAN.

Read more about the top questions to ask a WLAN vendor.

Evaluating wireless LAN requirements: What to consider before buying

Read more on the enterprise WLAN

WLAN vendors add mobile application optimization

How to future-proof the enterprise WLAN: Options on 802.11ac access points

WLAN and iPad: Are enterprises ready?

You may find a suitable WLAN solution for your enterprise after asking WLAN vendors the necessary questions. But before you buy that solution, you should evaluate your WLAN requirements to be clear of your company's requirements when it's time to invest.

A requirements evaluation includes assessing where you are today in terms of developing short- and long-term requirements and developing a list of milestones that you must reach in order to transform your environment to where it needs to be when it comes to WLAN deployment.

Read more on evaluating your WLAN requirements.

Determining WLAN management: Factors to consider

As the next generation of WLAN evolves for use as the primary access network, managing it becomes increasingly complex.

One of the biggest questions to ask when it comes to WLAN management is whether to go cloud or on-premises. Both avenues have advantages, but deciding how to manage your enterprise WLAN depends on various factors and business needs. Some of the factors to consider include taking a risk on new technology for WLAN management, the potential for increasing or decreasing costs and the integration process.

Read more about WLAN management.

This was first published in January 2013

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