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Mobile optimization: What to do about mobile data slowing your WAN

Mobile data continues to burden network bandwidth, making applications slow. This tip explains how mobile optimization can fix your slow WAN.

The rapid growth of mobility within the enterprise continues to change everything from how workers approach their tasks to how organizations are provisioning and implementing network components. Mobile devices within organizations are not only growing in terms of population and capability, but have also become primarily consumer- rather than enterprise-oriented today. This consumerization of mobility is being driven largely by the bring your own device (BYOD) corporate culture, which 30.3% of organizations now use as their primary purchasing model. The result is that 29.4% of companies have already retired their BlackBerry support, and iOS along with Android devices are now the most widely used devices in (and outside) the enterprise.

To both leverage and secure a growing population of highly capable, albeit nonenterprise-focused devices, companies are deploying a variety of tools. In addition to bolstering their wireless LANs (WLANs), 48% and 43.8% of enterprises are using mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management, respectively. Moreover, 36.8% of organizations have deployed a solution that integrates their WLAN's network access controls (NAC) with MDM. Companies are adopting these technologies to not only control devices and company data, but also manage and optimize mobile traffic through their networks. Optimization in particular is a pressing concern in many IT departments; companies expect to add 80.8% of capacity to their WLANs and provision 73.5% of this growth specifically for mobile devices. Though not yet widely deployed, 802.11ac Wi-Fi access points (APs) are able to provide approximately 1 GB in network speeds using one antennae, or up to 6.7 GB using eight antennae APs with multi-user multiple-in, multiple-out  capability. With nearly ubiquitous 802.11n adoption and vendor offerings already running at a speedy half-Gigabit, the stage is set for the all-wireless enterprise. As Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11ac continue to squeeze greater capacity from network bandwidth, more companies are questioning why they would wire a building when Wi-Fi can provide near-wired speeds. Accordingly, 47.4% of companies now use WLAN as their primary access technology, with another 18.8% assessing or planning to do the same by the end of 2014.

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Ensuring wireless network optimization for application performance

Modern mobile devices are highly app-centric, meaning that their user interface is dominated by apps. In addition to off-the-shelf enterprise and personal apps, 61.5% of companies are now developing their own apps. Additionally, 41.7% are developing native and HTML5 or web-based apps, with another 33% using remote access or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to deliver PC apps to mobile devices. Companies that are actively engaged in optimizing their networks for apps across all endpoints report better overall IT success in addition to 76% higher revenue per IT employee -- both of which are measures of how well and efficiently an IT department is performing. With employee's apps often coming from a combination of public and enterprise app stores, a browser, or a VDI client, determining the quality of service and/or capacity requirements required by each can be a daunting challenge for IT professionals without the right network tools.

The amount of traffic that is generated at the WLAN by mobile devices and apps are growing at an exceptional rate within the enterprise, requiring that IT professionals optimize throughput. The universal bottleneck in networks regardless of medium is transmission control protocol (TCP). Designed to ensure that traffic reaches its destination in pristine form, TCP uses a comprehensive (read: slow) set of procedures, none of which is suited to increasingly popular voice and video mobile use cases. In a nutshell, WAN optimizers allow traffic to be re-encoded into a proprietary format, removing TCP's overhead and the slow transmission between them.

However, WAN optimization can't speed up WLAN traffic until it gets to the WLAN. In order to achieve an end-to-end solution, IT professionals should review WLAN optimization, particularly given the average company's growing wireless needs. WLAN optimizers are either built into the logic of the APs and controllers by a vendor or are available as a third-party software-based, manufacturer-agnostic solution. Today's APs are capable of Quality of Service (QoS), deep packet inspection (DPI), airtime sharing for older and newer devices, and even technologies based on radio frequency (RF),  such as beamforming. These functions make modern APs ideal for multistandard wireless offices. As apps and app-centric devices continue to be brought into the enterprise, either via BYOD or simply as an overall trend, successful IT departments will need to have their enterprise WLANs ready to meet the demand.

Mobile optimization recommendations for your WAN

A large part of WAN and/or WLAN optimization is IT knowing what devices and what apps employees are using on the network, particularly if you have a varied, BYOD population. Using NACs and DPI in a solution will provide you this visibility and allow you to offload or lower the prioritization of nonenterprise or noncritical traffic.

  • Determine which of your apps and/or devices require which level of QoS and place that info into your network management software.
  • Vendors have been including some level of optimization functionality in their wireless APs or controllers for years. For instance, QoS or traffic prioritization has allowed IT professionals to segment traffic through virtual local area networks. Existing settings such as QoS can provide actionable insight into what sort of policies can be improved upon or ported over should you purchase a new WLAN solution. 
  • Evaluate multiple software-based solutions, especially if your network is heterogeneous. While most software-based solutions don't necessarily scale as well as hardware appliances, software should work on any WLAN, current and future. The compute power available to most software-based solutions is more than sufficient to provide the average enterprise with its network monitoring/management/routing needs. However, certain compute-intensive functionality at scale -- such as DPI -- still requires hardware, particularly if the traffic is heavy, encrypted and/or latency-sensitive.

If you have a homogenous network (single vendor), or at least a single-vendor WLAN solution, evaluate the proprietary capabilities at your disposal, such as RF or physical-level prioritization. Voice over IP, for example, uses every bit of help to ensure that application performance doesn't come at the cost of other traffic.

This was last published in June 2013

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