Preparing Wi-Fi Networks For The iPad Invasion


Enterprises need to re-evaluate their Wi-Fi networks as the wave of new 802.11n-enabled mobile devices make their way onto the network, says Andrew Garcia

While much progress has been made to ensure that mobile devices can be wrangled to conform to the enterprise network, network administrators should also be making sure that their Wi-Fi network is ready for those devices.

Apple’s iPad continues to grow in popularity, as a recent poll of eWEEK Europe readers revealed, and the tablet market is now expanding at an astronomical rate. Enterprise IT should brace to meet a fresh onslaught of these and other consumer-adoption-driven mobile devices after Christmas.

Making devices suitable for business

There have been a number of critical developments this year in the mobile device management field that pave the way for adoption of the iPad and iPhone in the enterprise. Mobile management companies have released new capabilities designed to bring iPhones under IT control, delivering visibility into the iPhone’s status, performance and usage along with policy-based security and configuration controls that combine to help these devices conform to the IT strictures and mandates required to be met before granting these devices access to the corporate network. Once Apple releases the long-awaited 4.2 firmware update for the iPad, the tablet device will be similarly manageable.

So while the devices are — or will soon be — ready for secure, managed use in the enterprise, IT implementers also need to think about the other side of the coin. Will the enterprise network — specifically, the corporate Wi-Fi network — be ready and capable to handle these bandwidth-gobbling devices?

For enterprise usage, iPhones and Android-based smartphones — as well as slate devices such as the iPad and the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Tab, Cisco Cius, BlackBerry PlayBook and Avaya Flare — depend on the uptime and quality of the Wi-Fi network for their operation. With no Ethernet jack and possibly unreliable indoor connections to the carrier WAN network, a healthy Wi-Fi network is of paramount importance.

Aruba Networks, an enterprise Wi-Fi vendor, recently released an interesting white paper tackling this issue, digging into the specifics of how the iPad operates when connected to its equipment. The paper identifies five distinct challenges for deploying the iPad in the enterprise: strong security, scalable performance, ease of integration, easy mobility and maximising battery life.

Types of traffic

On top of the concepts in the paper, I’m interested in how the traffic mix for this new wave of devices differs from typical PCs, and I’ve spent a lot of time mucking around Meraki‘s new application intelligence and client visibility to try to quantify the differences. Although my sample size is small on my network, HTTP-based traffic is much more common on the former than the latter. For five out of six of the iOS-based devices on my network, HTTP/HTTPS makes up more than 90 percent of the traffic generated, while for five out of six of the Windows PCs connected, HTTP/HTTPS represents less than half the traffic. According Meraki’s tools, the lion’s share of the HTTP content from the IOS-based devices was music and video.

To be sure, the new wave of smartphones and slates are lifestyle enhancers, not only increasing productivity but providing hours of entertainment in the same device. Without more visibility into all that web traffic, it will be difficult for enterprise network administrators to allow access to the former while limiting access to the latter, which would be beneficial to keeping the Wi-Fi network optimised.

Meraki is betting big on Layer 7 visibility, building signature-based traffic shaping into its network — allowing administrators to throttle Netflix viewing while allowing WebEx video conferencing, for instance — which has proved pretty useful from what I’ve seen so far.

I’ll be curious to see how other enterprise Wi-Fi makers respond.

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