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Wireless LAN management

Everyone is either deploying WLAN technology or considering the deployment of the technology. But the need for security and regulatory compliance is driving the need for better WLAN management. Robbie Harrell discusses strategies and tools for WLAN security management in this tip.

In the past, operation and maintenance of infrastructure IT environments has sometimes been an afterthought to many organizations. Organizations generally focus on optimization of current technology solutions and introduction of new technology solutions via the insertion or modification of the environment. Ongoing operational support and maintenance is something that may be considered, but it is just not given the priority that it should.

Wireless LAN (WLAN) technology proliferation is no different than the IP routing and LAN switching boom of the late 90's. Everyone is either deploying WLAN technology or considering the deployment of the technology. However, there is a big difference in the prioritization of management of these WLAN installations that is driving the need for management.

Sure, you still need the traditional management models for the WLAN such as FCAPS management. FCAPS stands for Fault management, Configuration management, Accounting/Inventory management, Performance management and Security management. FCAPS is not going to ever go away.

The difference is security. I have written several articles to date discussing how integral and important security is to the WLAN world as there are multiple federal regulations driving the technology. This is very different than in the past when security was "nice to have." Today, security is a must-have, due to penalties and fines that can be levied in relation to federal regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), HIPAA and Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

The question is how these federal regulations impact the need for WLAN management. If you call or write your congressman, you will not get the right answer, so I will try to articulate it here. Security is not just the prevention of unauthorized access to sensitive information, it is the ongoing management of the environment to identify, isolate and prevent intrusions and unauthorized access. This requires 24x7 security management of the WLAN environment.

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Wireless LAN deployment and federal regulations

Wireless LAN security: 802.11i

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Many WLAN vendors are touting WLAN management platforms that will provide the traditional FCAPS management capabilities that are common across legacy management platforms such as HPOpenview, Tivoli and Smarts. These platforms, in general, do not provide you with the type of management necessary to comply with federal regulations. Essentially you need a platform that will monitor the RF environment.

This requires more than just a platform polling network elements; it requires a platform capable of "sniffing" the air. Many vendors have come up with this type of platform, including AirDefense, AirMagnet, BlueSocket and newcomers such as Elemental Security, eIQNetworks and Procera Networks. All of these vendors have a common theme in that they utilize sensor-based technology to provide intrusion detection on a 24x7 basis. Key to all of the solutions: They tout that they will provide the support necessary to comply with SOX, HIPAA and Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

So, there is more to WLAN management than FCAP management. The security requirements are driving customers to deploy management solutions tailored to support management of the WLAN for regulatory compliance. This drives up the cost of the management solution, but it is a necessary evil. Be sure to check out some of the vendor offerings above to see how they can augment the WLAN vendor's management capabilities. Regardless of vendor, a robust solution is a virtual requirement for all WLAN deployments.

Robbie Harrell (CCIE#3873) is the National Practice Lead for Advanced Infrastructure Solutions for SBC Communications. He has over ten years of experience providing strategic, business and technical consulting services. Robbie resides in Atlanta, and is a graduate of Clemson University. His background includes positions as a Principal Architect at International Network Services, Lucent, Frontway and Callisma.
This was last published in December 2005

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