News Analysis: Enterprise IT needs to evaluate its WiFi network to ensure premium operation as the wave of new 802.11n-enabled, consumer-oriented mobile devices make their way onto the network. IT should focus on how these devices work within the performance and security mandates for the network, and look for ways to gain more visibility and control over the types of content used by these Web-centric devices.
While much progress has been made to ensure that mobile
devices can be wrangled to conform to the enterprise network, network
administrators should also be making sure that their WiFi network is ready for
With Verizon recently announcing a move to start selling
WiFi-only iPads (along with a MiFi cellular router) and AT&T countering by announcing
a more aggressive strategy to push Apple's device toward enterprise adoption,
enterprise IT should brace to meet a fresh onslaught of these and other
consumer-adoption-driven mobile devices after the upcoming holiday season.
There have been a number of critical developments this year
in the mobile device management field that pave the way for adoption of the
iPad and iPhone in the enterprise. Mobile management companies have released
new capabilities designed to bring iPhones under IT control, delivering
visibility into the iPhone's status, performance and usage along with
policy-based security and configuration controls that combine to help these
devices conform to the IT strictures and mandates required to be met before
granting these devices access to the corporate network. Once Apple releases the
long-awaited 4.2 firmware update for the iPad, the tablet device will be
So while the devices are-or will soon be-ready for secure,
managed use in the enterprise, IT implementers also need to think about the other
side of the coin. Will the enterprise network-specifically, the corporate WiFi
network-be ready and capable to handle these bandwidth-gobbling devices?
For enterprise usage, iPhones and Android-based smartphones-as
well as slate devices such as the iPad and the soon-to-come Samsung Galaxy Tab,
Cisco Cius, BlackBerry PlayBook and Avaya Flare-depend on the uptime and
quality of the WiFi network for their operation. With no Ethernet jack and
possibly unreliable indoor connections to the carrier WAN network, a healthy
WiFi network is of paramount importance.
Aruba Networks, an enterprise WiFi vendor, recently released
an interesting white paper tackling this issue, digging into the specifics
of how the iPad operates when connected to its equipment.
The paper identifies five distinct challenges for deploying the iPad in the
enterprise: strong security, scalable performance, ease of integration, easy
mobility and maximizing battery life.
On top of the concepts in the paper, I'm interested in how
the traffic mix for this new wave of devices differs from typical PCs, and I've
spent a lot of time mucking around Meraki's
new application intelligence and client visibility
to try to quantify the differences. Although my sample size is small on my
network, HTTP-based traffic is much more common on the former than the latter. For
five out of six of the iOS-based devices on my network, HTTP/HTTPS makes up more
than 90 percent of the traffic generated, while for five out of six of the
Windows PCs connected, HTTP/HTTPS represents less than half the traffic. According
Meraki's tools, the lion's share of the HTTP content from the IOS-based devices
was music and video.
To be sure, the new wave of smartphones and slates are
lifestyle enhancers, not only increasing productivity but providing hours of
entertainment in the same device. Without more visibility into all that Web
traffic, it will be difficult for enterprise network administrators to allow
access to the former while limiting access to the latter, which would be
beneficial to keeping the WiFi network optimized.
Meraki is betting big on Layer 7 visibility, building
signature-based traffic shaping into its network-allowing administrators to
throttle Netflix viewing while allowing WebEx video conferencing, for instance-which
has proved pretty useful from what I've seen so far.
I'll be curious to see how other enterprise WiFi makers respond.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.