Making enterprise network mobile ready

Mobile-device adoption for day-to-day business activities has been on the rise thanks to BYOD, smartphone proliferation and high-speed wireless networks. According to ABI Research, the number of active wireless connected devices is expected to grow from 13 billion in 2013 to 40.9 billion in 2020. That’s massive!

Today, users are no longer tied to their desktops or laptops thanks to mobile technology. They can reply to important business emails, access their CRM systems, collaborate with peers and share files—all from the cafeteria to the parking lot. This situation implies that it’s high time for enterprise network admins to recognize that wireless networks are just as important as their wired counterparts and that wireless networks should be as fast and secure as wired networks.

Though the use of mobile devices for business activities is good for both the enterprise and its customers, mobile devices also create some drawbacks on the network management side. The top four things to consider for making your network mobile ready are the following:

  • Wi-Fi signal strength
  • Shadow IT
  • Security breaches and attacks
  • Bandwidth congestion

Wi-Fi Signal Strength

A good Wi-Fi signal is critical throughout the campus. Employees must not experience any connectivity or speed problems owing to poor signal quality. The signal should be so good that it rivals the ones provided by the carriers. But it’s not quite so easy to maintain good signal strength all throughout a building. Apart from the performance of the wireless-LAN controller (WLC) and wireless access point (WAP), channel interference also plays a major role in ensuring good Wi-Fi signal strength.

RF interference is the noise or interference caused by other wireless and Bluetooth devices, such as phones, mice and remote controls that disrupt the Wi-Fi signal. Since all these devices operate on the same 2.4GHz to 5GHz frequencies, they disrupt the Wi-Fi signal strength. When a client device receives another signal, whether Wi-Fi or other signal type, it will defer transmission until the signal ceases. Interference that occurs during transmission also causes packet loss and, in turn, Wi-Fi retransmissions, which slow down throughput and result in fluctuating performance.

A common metric for measuring the Wi-Fi signal strength is the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). SNR is the ratio of signal power to the noise power, expressed in decibels. An SNR of 41dB is considered excellent and 10–15dB is considered poor. As soon as interference is experienced, however, SINR is the metric to watch. SINR is the signal–to–interference plus noise ratio, which provides the difference between the signal level and the level of interference. Since RF interference disrupts the user throughput, SINR represents the real performance level of the Wi-Fi systems. A higher SINR is considered good as it indicates higher data rates.

Shadow IT

When employees use third-party apps or services—without the knowledge of IT—to get their jobs done, those third-party technologies are known as shadow IT. Though it lets employees choose the apps or services that work for them and allow them to be productive, shadow IT can also lead to conflicts and security issues. Using apps that are not verified by the IT team may cause serious security breaches, including the loss of corporate data.

It’s tough to restrict shadow IT because employees keep finding ways to access the apps and services they prefer. And word-of-mouth marketing by those satisfied users increases the adoption of the shadow-IT apps and services among their peers. Sometimes, this situation creates conflict with existing IT policy and slows down business operations. But the adoption of shadow IT is on the rise. According to a Vanson Bourne study, shadow IT exists in more than 75 percent of enterprises and is expected to grow.

Security Breaches and Attacks

Public Wi-Fi hot spots are favorites for hackers who try to steal data from mobile devices that connect to those hot spots. A few years back, the Guardian, a U.K.-based journal, deployed a mock Wi-Fi hot spot at an airport to demonstrate how critical information such as email IDs, passwords and credit-card data can be hacked via the Wi-Fi connection. Many travelers connected to the hot spot and entered their details, which fraudsters could have misused in case of a real hack.

It’s highly unlikely that employees, or anyone as a matter of fact, will refrain from connecting to public Wi-Fi when they are traveling or in public places. But hackers use public Wi-Fi to inject malicious code that acts as a Trojan virus, which in turn helps them steal corporate data.

Bandwidth Congestion

Admins have no control when it comes to employees using their mobile devices for personal tasks, including visiting sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter. The admins cannot totally restrict access to those sites, as the world is becoming more social (at least online), and employees must be allowed to use such apps within reason. It should not, however, take a major toll on the bandwidth and cause frustration for employees accessing business-critical apps.

Buying additional bandwidth is the usual approach to solving the bandwidth crisis. It’s an ineffective way to manage bandwidth in enterprise networks, however. Most enterprises spend heavily on bandwidth. According to a ManageEngine survey conducted among Cisco Live 2015 San Diego attendees, 52 percent spend more than $25,000 per month for bandwidth. Proper bandwidth management helps them minimize their bandwidth expenses.

The Automation Advantage

WLC and WAP form the backbone of wireless networks. It’s imperative to monitor both wireless technologies actively, in real time, so that any performance issues can be resolved before they affect the users. Critical metrics such as SNR and SINR must also be monitored in real time so that any degradation in signal strength can be quickly identified and fixed. Heat maps play a critical role in visually representing the signal strength across the floor. Make use of those maps and display them on the NOC screens so that any signal problem can be discovered in real time.

Having strict firewall and security policies combined with effective firewall management prevents enterprises from succumbing to attacks resulting from hackers or use of shadow IT. For solving bandwidth-related issues, network admins can make use of traffic-shaping techniques to prioritize bandwidth for business-critical apps. This approach can eliminate the need to buy additional bandwidth regularly and can help provide adequate bandwidth for business-critical apps as well as minimum bandwidth for non-business-critical apps.

Doing all these things manually would be profoundly cumbersome. Look for tools or solutions that offer active monitoring of wireless networks, provide heat maps to identify and measure Wi-Fi signal strength, manage firewall configurations and policies, and troubleshoot bandwidth-related issues. With such a solution and strict security policies in place, you can make your network ready for mobile devices.

This article was originally published here.