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Wireless Management Software Comes of Age

November 4th, 2004

The demand for and adoption of mobile technologies and devices in the enterprise is increasing at a phenomenal rate. Simultaneously, the capabilities of mobile solutions, as well as the underlying mobile landscape, are changing rapidly.

These changes create the need for solutions that facilitate the long-term growth and success of mobile enterprise initiatives. Wireless Site Management software is there to fill the gap with offerings from companies like Computer Associates, AirWave and WirelessValley.

The use of mobile technologies such as phones Personal Information Management (PIM) devices, palmtop and laptop computers and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) is steadily rising. Mobile users are several orders of magnitude more productive when they can stay connected to their companies and companies´ resources through mobile phones and wireless networks. In fact, many companies have corporate packages which allow mobile users the freedom they could only previously dream of.

In addition, wireless carriers are increasingly offering data capabilities alongside normal voice features, while phone manufacturers increasingly adopt a multi-function attitude which results in products which can act as phones, web browsers, email clients, audio and video recorders and players, PDAs and even game consoles.

As a result, usage of these advanced devices has spurred an industry fueled by more than 2 billion wireless and mobile users and has kick started further innovation, bandwidth and features from the various wireless carriers around the world.

In the corporate arena, users have transposed their desires for features in their personal lives onto the IT teams and have demanded broadband, always on, secure connectivity to corporate resources. IT teams have, until now, often had to build out infrastructure without having the management software to go along with it, as the concept of enterprise wireless management was new and the tools were geared towards traditional wired LANs.

Often, IT and Security teams have had to build infrastructure without proper security, monitoring and management and have felt management´s wrath when things didn´t go as planned. Recent innovations and product offerings, though, are enabling extensive management and security systems to be built out on networks where the only borders are often the strength of the wireless signal being broadcast or, scarier still, the borders may be non-existent if the organization allows mobile users to have direct access to the corporate resources.

The last 12-18 months have seen the release of several key pieces of software: Wireless Site Management (WSM) from Computer Associates (CA) leads the pack both in terms of product availability but also brand, while smaller boutique software companies such as AirWave and Wireless Valley offer products such as AirWave Management Platform (AMP) and LANPlanner.

CA´s WSM package was released in May and has elicited enthusiastic reviews ever since. The WSM suite uses GPS technology to help pinpoint the wireless devices on the network. The initial push for the technology is in North America, though it is available worldwide. Key benefits of the platform include the ability to identify and manage wireless infrastructure and to restrict network access to authorized machines. It also monitors the performance of wireless networks. WSM is priced at $15,000 for up to 100 users, with additional user licenses available for $1,500 per 100.

AirWave´s AirWave Wireless Management Platform (AMP) lets administrators control access points from a central console while also providing additional monitoring and lockdown capabilities. Other features include key management, security policy distribution and a mechanism for detecting unauthorized radio activity. Early reviews of AMP have been positive, and the product has already been chosen by nearly a dozen Universities around the US.

LANPlanner from Wireless Valley takes a different role entirely as it allows the visual planning and management of wireless (and wired) LANs. Focused primarily on the design and planning aspect, the monitoring controls have gotten significant industry attention as well.

Overall, the current suite of wireless network and site management tools are diverse, and should be tested and chosen based on your current and future business requirements more than the fads or trends of the wireless industry.

Features such as asset management, software distribution, advanced security and lockdown settings (preferably based on policies and limits you set in advance), are all considerations which must be taken into account when looking into any purchasing decision.

In addition, future management and communication may be made much more simple by SyncML, a mobile-oriented data exchange language backed by many of the industry´s key players. Based on XML, SyncML will allow full synchronization of data across multiple networks, carriers and platforms. From policies to personal information, SyncML allow incredible innovations such as disconnected calendar sharing.

Ultimately managing wireless and mobile resources is an expensive and time consuming job, and as the product offerings, standards and toolkits mature enterprises will only find more and more reasons to make the migration and vendors will only be making it easier to do so.

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