13 February 2009

Network Management: The Achilles Heel of Wireless LAN Vendors

Purchasing a single, all-encompassing wired + wireless + network management network solution from single vendor is, at first blush, very alluring - one purchase order, one source of service, one throat to choke. However, the reality of that decision can be very painful. Gartner analyst Mark Fabbi took on this subject in a 2006 report titled Vendor Influence Curve: A Model for Dealing with Major Vendors, when he wrote that no single vendor offered best-in-class products across the board. Relying on a single vendor deprives a user of the best available solution.

This is especially true in wireless network management. Long the backwater of wireless LAN vendors, whose focus on the physical layer generally comes at the exclusion of network management and human-machine interface design, network management is the Achilles heel of most wireless LAN vendors. That is the reason why a vendor's own management tool is usually not the best available for that vendor's own devices.

What then should users look for in a management tool? Focus on how feature-rich the tool is, how intuitive it is to use, and how well it integrates with both legacy and new wireless gear. A feature-rich management solution should address the limitations of proprietary platforms, and deliver a broad suite of options that would not otherwise be available, including:

  • Automated device discovery across any network infrastructure (WAN or LAN) of products from multiple vendors;
  • Group-based policy definition for the efficient management of large networks;
  • Centralized configuration for all wireless vendors' devices to eliminate manual processes and the opportunity for human error;
  • Compliance audits to enforce security policies at all times;
  • User-based monitoring of all wireless vendors' devices for real-time information and rapid trouble-shooting;
  • Diagnostics and alarms for fast problem resolution;
  • Integrated reporting package that encompasses all wireless vendors' devices for intelligent planning and performance measurement;
  • Automated RF management to continuously optimize Wi-Fi performance;
  • Role-based allocation of management and support duties.
The solution is a comprehensive, vendor-neutral network management system.

Vendor-neutral network management is a relatively recent market development but one that is expected to become de rigueur. According to Daniel Corsetti, IDC’s former senior analyst for enterprise networks, vendor-neutral network management is the wave of the future because a single, consolidated management console has distinct operational advantages:
  • From one integrated easy-to-use console, all wireless LAN users, devices, and intrusion attempts can be seen at a glance;
  • Users can select from which wireless LAN vendor(s) they purchase products, today or tomorrow, based on price/performance instead of a vendor's head-lock;
  • Device configurations can be remotely managed, policies set, and RF settings and firmware adjusted, across a building or across continents - lowering IT overhead and reducing operating costs.
Vendor-neutral management systems can also extend the usable life of legacy wireless LAN infrastructure by an average of 1 to 2 years, a 20-40% increase in service life based on typical infrastructure replacement schedules.

A single-console overview of the wireless network makes a heterogeneous, multi-vendor network appear homogeneous - simplifying training, problem recognition, and fault remediation. Management tools earn their keep when a problem arises: the swift detection of a problem source, analysis of its impact on users, and recommendations for fault resolution are the defining characteristics of a great management system. Managing a single vendor network without access to network-critical data is a recipe for disaster. So is managing a multi-vendor network with multiple management tools.

Users of the vendor-neutral AirWave Wireless Management Suite report up to a 75% reduction in problem resolution time and a 40% reduction in support calls. The AirWave tool supports a broad range of wireless hardware including products from Cisco (Aironet, Airespace, and earlier models), HP ProCurve/Colubris, Aruba, Proxim, Symbol, Enterasys, Juniper, LANCOM, Trapeze/Belden, Nomadix, Avaya, Enterasys, Alcatel, and others. The suite also supports “intelligent” and “thin” APs, mesh devices, point-to-point, and WiMAX outdoor networks.

So the next time you're confronted by a vendor pushing a proprietary management tool, remember Mark Fabbi's words and walk on by. Look instead for a best-in-class, vendor-neutral management solution - you'll save money and retain control over your network.