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Melding BYOD into the WLAN lifecycle

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Employees and their mobile devices go hand in hand in today’s business world, and organisations can in actual fact benefit by accepting the bring your own device (BYOD) trend.

“When a salesperson sells something, it’s often a win-win; both parties – buyer and seller – walk away happy. For instance, a person who likes mint chocolate chip ice cream enters an ice cream shop, sees his or her favourite flavour and gleefully chooses. The buyer gets ice cream, the seller gets money and both parties leave satisfied. Salespeople get to enjoy win-win transactions all the time,” says Richard Long, regional director: MEA at NETSCOUT.  “Networking professionals, on the other hand, are often faced with win-lose situations when working with users. Users often want something that makes life more difficult for networking people. Users may want faster Internet access, but networking people understand the cost. Users may want unfettered access, but networking people need to keep it secure. And users may want to be able to use their own devices, but networking people know that BYOD makes managing Wi-Fi more challenging.”

BYODs that use corporate networks, with or without IT approval, are already having a tangible impact on enterprise WLAN performance and security. Unlike corporate-purchased or approved smart devices designed for enterprise use, BYODs are hard to predict, relatively diverse, and less robust. This is according to the white paper, ‘Bringing BYOD’s into the fold with NETSCOUT’.

It further states that, as a result, roughly half of the organisations surveyed by NETSCOUT SYSTEMS (a market leader in real-time service assurance and cybersecurity solutions) already experience daily employee complaints about BYOD connectivity and are concerned about BYOD bandwidth consumption. “Worse, explosive consumer electronic sales are likely to exacerbate these problems, as fewer than 50 percent of those organisations planned any WLAN redesign to accommodate growth,” highlights the paper.

Lisa Phifer, president of Core Competence and author of the NETSCOUT white paper, says: “The decision many organisations now face is not whether to allow BYODs; that ship has sailed. Rather, today’s challenge is to find effective methods and tools to discover smart devices used in the workplace (no matter who owns them), assess their impact on the corporate network, reduce unwanted side-effects and facilitate trouble-free business-appropriate use.

“A growing number of organisations are moving in this direction by recommending applications for safe productive use of BYODs or using mobile device managers to enroll them. While such measures can help, they do not by themselves address the multitude of impacts that BYODs have on enterprise WLAN performance, security and compliance. As we have shown, factoring all smart devices – including BYODs – into the WLAN lifecycle at every step fills this gap by proactively avoiding costly problems and simplifying trouble resolution.”

She highlights that BYODs should be proactively factored into every step of the WLAN lifecycle to more fully address their business impacts and facilitate productive business use. These, Phifer lists as:

Wi-Fi planning and design: Today’s enterprise WLANs should be designed not just for laptops, but also to meet anticipated BYOD coverage and capacity needs. Build in extra bandwidth and higher client density to accommodate inevitable BYOD growth. Optimise the network for expected BYOD device usage based on known devices. When positioning APs, plan ahead for the shorter reach and lower data rates associated with battery-powered consumer electronics that have 1×1 MIMO antennas. Allocate available RF spectrum while bearing in mind that most contemporary BYODs don’t support 5 GHz or 40 MHz bonded channels.

Site survey, deployment and verification: Follow initial planning and deployment with site surveys, conducted with IT-issued laptops and handsets and a representative set of BYODs (such as Androids). To verify true user experience, measure business application performance in both upstream and downstream directions; results are likely to differ and often do not correlate directly to signal strength (that is, bars displayed by a smartphone). Measure performance at every location where smart devices can connect to the corporate network throughout your facility to get a complete and accurate picture of real-world results. Finally, use all of these survey results to offer guidance on recommended or banned BYODs and help employees make personal product choices that improve both overall network and individual user productivity.

Troubleshooting and managing interference: When it comes to BYODs, ignorance is a surefire path to RF inefficiency. Deploy tools that can routinely monitor and deliver actionable visibility into the physical and link layer interference caused by smart devices carried by both employees and guests. Develop diagnostic practices to proactively isolate BYOD-induced anomalies and Wi-Fi connectivity problems, helping administrators cost-effectively spot and remediate new interferers before help desk calls begin and productivity suffers.

Wireless security monitoring: Without adequate tools and automation, BYODs are difficult if not impossible to monitor for possible security breaches. Take steps to backfill this all-too-common blind spot by using a Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS) to continuously monitor your entire corporate airspace for all smart devices, no matter who owns them. Take advantage of WIPS to auto-classify and respond to BYOD-induced threats and security policy deviations, logging all activity 24/7 to better understand BYOD use and satisfy regulatory compliance and reporting needs. Additionally, make sure a solution that will allow for devices classification is in place. It is important to have visibility into the smart devices on your network and be able to differentiate between a smart device and a regular 802.11 station. This will save hours of troubleshooting by being able to immediately identify those BYODs that are rogue.

Proactive performance assessment: Augment reactive troubleshooting with continuous active wireless testing to proactively detect network congestion, growing error rates, degraded data rates and other problems caused by unexpected increases in the number, density and diversity of Wi-Fi devices. With BYODs, frequent unplanned change is a virtual certainty; trend analysis can be an effective way to assess emerging impact and adapt plans and policies to satisfy demand and avoid BYOD troubles.

“Integrating BYODs into practices and tools used throughout the wireless LAN lifecycle is an investment in business success and efficiency. For example, iPad and Android tablet sales are growing, but many enterprises have not yet embraced these popular BYODs. Nonetheless, it makes sense to consider the presence of all personal smartphones and tablets carried by employees. Proactively watch for RF interference caused by iOS and Android mobile hotspots and continuously test your WLAN to detect and evaluate their business impact. When rolling out new APs, include consumer devices in site surveys, planning layout and spectral allocation to ensure coverage. When the time comes to embrace these consumer tablets for business, your WLAN will be well-positioned to do so without costly redesign,” concludes Phifer.

NETSCOUT’s AirMagnet solutions, which are available in the African region by value-added distributor, Networks Unlimited, can play an instrumental role throughout the WLAN lifecycle, helping employers successfully incorporate BYODs into their organisation. “Local companies cannot ignore the phenomenon of BYOD and put themselves at risk of losing valuable talent to organisations that have implemented BYOD policies to encourage a more flexible way of working. SME’s can in particular benefit from this growing trend,” says Anton Jacobsz, managing director at Networks Unlimited.

Over time, AirMagnet Enterprise can continuously monitor RF activity throughout your WLAN, including remote sites equipped with SmartEdge Sensors that use three 802.11n 3×3 MIMO radios – two for full-time dual-band monitoring and one dedicated to spectrum analysis. This infrastructure can automatically detect new BYOD interferers and support proactive client performance verification. The latter is accomplished by AirMagnet Enterprise’s Automated Health Check (AHC) feature, which leverages hardware or software sensors to test network health end-to-end. With scheduled health checks, IT can be quickly alerted to emerging problems triggered by misbehaving or misconfigured BYODs. When a problematic device is discovered, AirMagnet Enterprise’s Dynamic Threat Update (DTU) feature can be used to create new signatures to detect that specific device type or problem. These tools can help IT rapidly discover and automatically respond to BYODs, minimising the adverse impact they might otherwise have on WLAN performance and business applications.

“With AirMagnet Enterprise’s BYOD Classification, smart devices are automatically classified and grouped with detailed information including operating system and model name. Additionally, the IT administrator can also get a smart device list report detailing the above information,” says Long.

“NETSCOUT’s AirMagnet product line offers a complete portfolio of solutions, spanning the entire WLAN lifecycle, to help businesses ensure wireless LAN security, performance and compliance. The AirMagnet products can help your organisation bring BYODs into the fold by discovering employee-owned mobile devices used in business settings, assessing their impact on the corporate network, reducing unwanted side-effects and facilitating trouble-free business-appropriate use,” adds Phifer.




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