Network convergence has been defined as the integration of voice, video and data in a single network. This convergence allowed enterprises to deliver more, and even better services, at a much lower cost to customers. While network convergence has evolved over the years to include teleconferencing, streaming media, and HD video, the latest addition to network convergence is mobility and this includes smartphones, tablets, laptops or any other wireless capable device.
For an enterprise to leverage the advantages of mobility, such as increased employee satisfaction, improved productivity and overall agility, the network should be capable of providing a hassle-free and seamless user experience. Here are a few key things that network admins need to keep in mind when deciding to bring mobility into the enterprise mix.
Wired and wireless experience
Wired and wireless were traditionally run as separate networks, with wired the most commonly used and wireless usually limited to guests and a few employees who frequently moved around the office. This changed with the advent of mobility and BYOD. Mobility requires a scalable, high-speed and converged wired and wireless network that can provide consistent performance to the end user, with the device used and the location of the user bearing no impact on the overall experience.
To achieve this, network admins should start consolidating their standalone networks into a converged one, leveraging network hardware that can handle both wired and wireless. Further, converged networks are less complex, easier to manage and remove the need for maintaining a separate architecture, policies and features. Many hardware vendors, including Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper, have solutions for unified access that can make network convergence easy.
Something else to consider is the performance of your wireless network. Network admins should make sure that their wireless networks provide either the same or a better level of experience than the wired network.
An increased demand for WAN bandwidth is a major impact of mobility. Mobility and BYOD bring in applications that compete for bandwidth with business-critical applications. With each user carrying at least two wireless devices and numerous applications, there can be an exponential rise in demand for enterprise bandwidth, which may lead to link saturation, non-delivery of business data or even network downtime.
To ensure that WAN bandwidth is not being misused by unwanted applications or non-business critical traffic, your network should have continuous, real-time traffic analytics using technologies such as NetFlow and deep packet inspection. Traffic analytics will help determine who and what is using your precious WAN bandwidth and provide actionable information to help redesign QoS policies or make capacity planning decisions.
Security can be considered the biggest problem brought into the enterprise by mobility. Employees may end up getting hacked or pick up malware while using their wireless devices in unsecured public networks. Security measures such as firewalls, ACLs and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) are rendered useless against security threats that are physically carried into the network. When these devices are connected to the enterprise, it results in the infection spreading to other devices or providing backdoor access to sensitive information stored in the network.
Employees also tend to use rooted devices that allow the installation of unverified applications from any source. Using devices with such applications can lead to a virus spreading in the network or the network falling prey to data theft. Unknown and unwanted applications should be blocked in the network and network security should not be limited to only incoming traffic but should also cover LAN traffic. This helps detect network anomalies that could have been physically carried into the network.
Monitoring is one of the most important aspects when ensuring network performance. Be it wired, wireless or converged networks, monitoring allows administrators to identify possible issues before they impact business continuity. Monitoring can help a network admin discover slow network devices, saturated links, route flaps, failing application servers, incorrect QoS priorities, security violations, network anomalies, and more. This way, the network admin gets to be proactive and can solve issues even before the users become aware of them and starts complaining.
Never forget the small things. Just because your enterprise supports mobility does not mean you have to allow all applications installed on a device access to your network. Allowing all applications can lead to bandwidth or security issues, both of which are undesirable. You also don't have to support the personal requirements of your employees, so feel free to say "no" when you are asked to work on non-business requirements.
You must also remember to implement policies and rules for using the enterprise network. Though your organisational policies may allow an unrestricted network, remember to review or log file downloads, especially when they are larger than normal or simply not your regular file types. Such downloads can hog available bandwidth, causing security problems and in some cases even legal trouble.
Last but not least, make sure you educate your employees. Users in the network can be your biggest security problem. Educate your employees on the importance of data protection, prevention of data loss, network security and privacy, irrespective of whether they are using wired, wireless or remote to access the enterprise network.
Don Thomas Jacob is the head geek at SolarWinds