The economy finally seems to be picking up, and mobile and wireless vendors are slowly sticking their heads out like so many groundhogs to see if the long, hard, budget-strapped winter is finally coming to an end. This means, of course, that enterprise buyers should be out in full force with purchasing orders in hand and plans for systems deployments fully mapped out.
However, while purchasing is sure to pick up over the next several months, most IT buyers may approach new projects and expansion with a lot more caution and skepticism than two or three years ago. Issues such as security, user comfort levels, vendor commitment and expertise, and control and management will weigh heavy on nearly every business or IT decision made regarding new technology. Enterprise users will also be looking for easy-to-implement and simplified solutions that do not rely on multiple systems and extensive routing schemes to get the job done.
Buyers will be "very hesitant, very cautious, and demand measurable and demonstrable ROI [return on investment]," says the head of a major provider of field force software. "Users are now holding vendors accountable, and everyone is wheeling and dealing."
Security is, by far, the biggest concern among IT managers and network administrators, especially involving remote and wireless systems that channel messages and data across multiple networks. At one major east coast university for example, security is a key issue since students, faculty, administrators and visitors must all have reliable wireless access, but not at the expense of ease of use and seamless authentication. The solution was to configure and segregate all of the existing wireless access points so that they do not offer direct access to critical information resources.
"The idea is that as you hit an access point, you go to a [separate] device to get authenticated, and then you are passed to the 'real network', if you will, that has all of the research and education and administrative resources," says the head of the university's IT operations. "The biggest challenge is providing smooth and seamless integration as users move from the wireless system and into existing wired systems."
While seamless access is important, planning and implementing a system that allows centralized management and control is also important. In fact, centralized management is at the very top of the requirements list for the IT head of a records department for a major city government. The system -- which involves more than 40 wireless terminals and PCs -- started as a pilot project and then quickly evolved into a network that is used by both municipal workers and citizens to retrieve and review public records. Control is important since a variety of people can access highly-sensitive records, and 'public agency' pressures multiply the demands for having the system up and working and secure, says the IT manager. "So obviously, reliability is a big issue."
One other demand voiced by enterprise users shopping for mobile and wireless solutions is having the ability to track users within a specific wireless network and identify their location at any given time. One favorite technique among wireless solutions providers is to take a 'routed IP architecture' approach and then use 'subscriber management' software to keep tabs on who is moving in and out o a wireless network. This not only allows network managers and those charged with security to track the identities and locations of users within a large area -- such as a corporate building, university campus, large hotels, or convention center -- but also offers the ability to build a 'service-oriented' environment, where wireless data can be directly channeled to individual areas and users within a confined space.
"By placing 'beacon points' wherever they are needed, you can have a completely managed world, and bring data and information back into control," says the president and CEO of the wireless company.
Personalized network services are not just confined to data and applications, however, but can also extend to the overall management, control and security of a wireless net. One major 802.11 wireless network provider, for example, bases its entire business strategy on network services, which range from basic level virus filtering to highly intelligent and intuitive single-box systems that an handle up to 20,000 simultaneous users. "Security and control have to be layered across the server and the network," says the firm's director of product marketing. Scalability, as well as designing everything from a 'user-aware management' standpoint, is also a key consideration to most users looking for reliable and low maintenance wireless solutions, he adds.
Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to http://www.shorelineresearch.com.