Computer Associates International is planning its strongest play yet to manage wireless LANs comprehensively with a new system that offers greater automation and streamlines deployment.
The new Unicenter Wireless Site Management (WSM) system, due in beta this week from the Islandia, N.Y., company, is designed to help customers overcome some of the hurdles that have slowed deployment of IEEE 802.11 wireless LANs (WLANs).
At the heart of the software, which is due to be announced at the companys CAWorld user conference in Las Vegas this week, is the automation of myriad and complicated functions such as managing encryption keys, detecting and disabling rogue access points, and provisioning user access.
Also automated are processes such as discovering and mapping WLAN infrastructures, optimizing the wireless network and automating Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) configuration and administration.
With such a comprehensive approach to WLAN security, administration and management, Computer Associates International Inc. is planting a big stake in the ground compared with rivals such as IBMs Tivoli unit, BMC Software Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.s OpenView unit, observers say.
“CA is the biggest vendor to venture this far into WLAN management,” said Warren Wilson, an analyst at Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc. “It recognizes that WLANs present management challenges that a lot of enterprises havent fully dealt with.”
One major hurdle cleared by the new Unicenter WSM system is the automation of administration of the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption scheme.
“[WEP] is a huge administrative headache,” said Yogesh Gupta, chief technology officer at CA.
“You should change those 128-bit keys every day, but you have to do that on every access point and every single device that connects to the [WLAN]. Users want to set up policies to rotate keys periodically and make it happen.”
CAs Unicenter WMS automatically sends out WEP keys to access points and agents on devices, and it maintains a schedule of key rotations.
One early Unicenter WSM tester agreed that WEP administration is one of many obstacles in WLAN management. Another is the ability to locate problems on the network.
“Thats whats been holding back management,” said Maurice Ficklin, director of technology services at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. “Since weve had Unicenter with the ability to see faults, weve increased management capabilities 100 percent.”
Unicenter WSM also takes a tiered approach to securing WLANs, starting with an agent that is required for each device accessing the WLAN. Without an agent, access is not permitted. Access can also be restricted by time of day and by location. Users also can define access zones on a virtual floor plan.
The ability to detect rogue access points immediately is “critical” for users at Universal Health Services Inc., said Linda Reino, CIO of the company, in King of Prussia, Pa. “Because [the WLAN] reaches outside the building, I have to know my wireless network is safe. I have to protect patient data,” Reino said.
Unicenter WSM, which integrates with the main Unicenter Network and Systems Management (NSM) console but does not require it, automatically load-balances access points and allocates channels. It can use the Unicenter NSM event management system to capture data for the NSM console.
Unicenter WSM is made up, in part, of agents that require between 2MB of memory on handheld devices and 4MB on laptops, as well as a management server that runs on Microsoft Corp.s Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003 or Windows XP.
Unicenter WSM supports access points from most popular vendors. General availability has not yet been determined.