WLAN Management Considerations

By Jim Geier

April 08, 2003

Don't stop short after installing a wireless LAN. Be sure to consider wireless LAN management tools to ensure your network delivers maximum performance and security.

Wireless LANs are certainly the wave of the future for enterprise networking. Everywhere you look, there is a company deploying a WLAN into their daily operations. And as they do so, many companies are finding out that they must now manage it.

If an organization can not effectively manage their WLAN, benefits quickly diminish and it becomes more of a cost burden than savings. This is where network management software comes into play. Wireless network management software gives a company the ability to get the best possible performance and tightest security from their WLAN.

WLANs have Different Needs

WLANs are built on technology that is fundamentally different than that of wired networks. As a result, you can not manage WLANs in the same way. Plus, the ever evolving security challenges and technological innovations of WLANs make wireless management software even more of a necessity.

Wireless network management software will let you get the maximum performance from your WLAN, while making it as secure as possible. For example, management software will constantly monitor every access point in a WLAN, giving instant feedback so a network administrator can constantly tweak the wireless network, keeping it as fast and secure as possible.

Identifying Rogue Access Points

Analysts estimate that 30% or more of access points in enterprise settings are unsecured, rogue access points. Employees deploy most of these access points for personal benefit, but the access points can unintentionally make the network vulnerable to attacks by hackers. Manual detection of rogue access points can be very expensive and time-consuming, as well as not very thorough.

Wireless network management software, on the other hand, can automatically detect every rogue access point and pin-point its location, saving money and dramatically improving security. The software locates the rogue access points by examining all of the routers and switches in the network and applies a series of tests and filters to determine which access points are supposed to be on the network and which are rogue.

Monitoring Authorized Access Points

It is necessary to constantly monitor access point settings to ensure that they remain in compliance with current security policies and are performing well. Wireless network management software continuously monitors all of the access points in the network and alerts the IT staff if anything strange is going on. The IT staff can set the performance and security thresholds at any value they wish and change them at any time.

The management software can produce detailed WLAN performance reports, giving the IT staff a way to review and fine-tune the network. Some software packages also have auto-repair features, which automatically return the access points to their proper settings.

Attributes to Consider

Many companies are now offering WLAN management tools, such as AirWave, Computer Associates, Cisco, Symbol, and Wavelink (and others). When evaluating WLAN management software, there are certain attributes that distinguish a superior management solution. Consider the following features when shopping for WLAN management software:

  • Centralization. The software should allow you to control everything from a central location. A network administrator should be able to perform activities such as configuration and monitoring of infrastructure, changing access point settings, and firmware upgrades from one terminal.
  • Multiple Vendor Support. The software should support access point hardware from a variety of vendors, allowing system design flexibility.
  • Flexibility. Easy upgradeable software is a definite plus. Software that can not change with the times is a poor investment.
  • Easy Integration with Existing Network Infrastructure. It is always good when a product can integrate with a legacy system, because the company does not lose its existing investment. The software must also be able to integrate seamlessly with other network management software, such as HP's OpenView.
  • Ease of Use. The software must have a user friendly operating environment, be easy to navigate, and provide adequate help when needed.
  • Automation. When configuration changes are needed, the software must be able to automatically implement the changes over large groups of access points. This will eliminate the chance for human error and ensure uniform implementation of the changes.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers workshops on deploying WLANs.

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