The BYOD movement is continuing to gain popularity as mobile devices like tablets, smartphones and even laptops become more affordable. BYOD is here to stay and for the unprepared IT manager that can mean slower network speed and clogged resources, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“From the IT side, what they’re starting to realize is ‘I need to embrace BYOD, but I don’t need to embrace chaos,'” says Perry Correll, senior technologist and director of product marketing for Xirrus, a wireless network company.
IT managers can prepare to allow for BYOD, by planning for density on the network
by having a user policy and mobile device management strategy in place and by monitoring applications on the network.
Density refers to the number of Wi-Fi devices on the network. “Historically, Wi-Fi networks kind of grew ad hoc on their own,” says Correll. “You would throw up an access point here and throw up an access point there and eventually you’d grow into a real network. It was really designed for coverage.”
As the number of devices on a given network continues to grow, the traditional solution is to upgrade the radios inside the access points. The term radio in wireless technology refers to the radio waves an access point emits. Correll says simply upgrading the radios inside an access point doesn’t solve the issue of density.
“You need to have more radios. Traditional access points usually have two radios inside and so all of the devices in the area connect to one of those two radios and you get what you get.”
Adding more radios allows IT managers to separate out devices and choose which devices connect to which radio. This is important because not all Wi-Fi devices are created equal.
“If I have a tablet, a smartphone and laptop sitting on my table all connected to the exact same Wi-Fi access point, every one of those devices is going to connect at a different data rate,” says Correll. “Putting everything on the same radio degrades the network.”
By separating out the devices and providing more radios for connection, IT managers can put higher performing devices on one radio and slower consumer products on another, ensuring optimum speed for everyone.
IT should also consider multi-state radios that can support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. According to Correll, 2.4GHz is more of a legacy band and newer Wi-Fi products are beginning to support the 5Ghz band. Traditional access points have one radio for each type of band inside, but once the majority of devices on the network support 5GHz, the access point will need to be replaced. Using a multi-state device allows you to simply convert the radio inside to support the 5GHz band.
Mobile Device Management
After addressing density, IT managers should think about mobile device management. This includes having a BYOD policy and a method for monitoring or controlling applications on the network.
Ideally, a BYOD policy should be developed before employees are allowed to use personal mobile devices on the network. It’s a good idea for organizations to take a preemptive approach to tech support as well.
“Send communication to employees before the new devices hit the network informing them about BYOD policies and preempt questions that will likely be asked,” says Brett Belding senior manager of IT Mobility Solutions for Cisco. “This will help lesson support desk calls and allows employees to set up their devices at their leisure.
Deciding what exactly is covered in a BYOD policy is up to each individual organization. No one approach is right for everyone. However, a strong policy will outline which devices are acceptable in the workplace and who gets access to what resources.
“You’ve got to have some way to set rules and policies. If you’re employee shows up and they’re using a corporate owned (or approved) device, then they’ll get rights to certain resources. If you’re employee shows up and they’re using a gaming console, you should have the ability to restrict and even prohibit the use of that,” says Correll.
Employees are no longer bringing one device to work. They’re bringing a laptop, tablet and smartphone. If all of those devices are competing for the same resources, there are going to be problems. Employers might not want someone’s iPhone to access the same material as a corporate owned or approved Macbook.
Part of mobile device management is also monitoring the apps on your network, and there are many different software platforms that can help IT managers stay in control.
“Maybe you don’t need to be using Facebook at work and using up my corporate resources or maybe you don’t need to be using Match.com,” says Correll.
Mobile device management software gives IT mangers the option of blocking those applications entirely, limiting access depending on device or time of day or making certain applications only available on a guest network that won’t hog precious corporate resources.
Some organizations are taking mobile device policy and management a step further by allowing only certain types of devices on the network. For example, employees can bring a tablet to work, but it has to be either an iPad, Galaxy Tab or Nexus. In that case, an employer may even chip in to pay for part of the device rather than buy expensive laptops for all employees.
“Hands downs security is the biggest concern regarding BYOD and mobility,” says Belding. Although many organizations may want to allow employees to bring devices from home, they’re worried about the implications of allowing so many different devices on the network and they need a way to protect corporate resources.
“Some valuable security measures include enforcing a PIN, and the ability to perform a local and remote data wipe, if needed, and encryption,” says Belding. “Additionally it’s important to leverage a combination of single sign-on credentials and certificates for authentication.”
Regardless of your approach to post-holiday BYOD, you should at least recognize that Wi-Fi devices are becoming the norm. No matter where your organization might be in terms of wireless access and BYOD, issues surrounding mobile device use will continue to arise if not properly addressed.
“Wi-Fi isn’t just a nice thing to have anymore,” says Correll. “It’s replacing the wired infrastructure.