One on one with Keyur Shah of Aruba Networks

Shah talks about 802.11ac and the art of deploying Wi-Fi
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All eyes are on the next evolution of the Wi-Fi wireless standard as the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the launch of its Wi-Fi Certified program for 802.11ac this week.

With this in mind, we posted some questions about Wi-Fi deployment and 802.11ac to Keyur Shah, senior product marketing manager of Aruba Networks. Shah is a Cisco Certified Internetwork Engineer with extensive experience in the areas of wireless and security. Below are his responses, with some edits made for length.

FCIO: Can you name three of the most important considerations when rolling out a Wi-Fi deployment? 

Keyur Shah: The three most important considerations when rolling out a Wi-Fi deployment are coverage, capacity and applications. Coverage is important so that users have pervasive connectivity anywhere and everywhere on the network. While most early Wi-Fi networks were designed for coverage, capacity is the critical criterion for future wireless networks. Since most users today carry at least two, if not three, mobile devices, planning ahead for adequate future capacity is vitally important.

Taking applications into consideration is also important because at the end of the day, it's the applications that users are relying on the wireless network for. If the network is designed for email traffic, and users start utilizing real-time video conferencing applications like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Lync, they will not have the right user experience. This will lead to the escalation of complaints and help desk tickets.

FCIO: Can you highlight an important issue that can result in a problematic Wi-Fi implementation?

Shah: One of the most common issues with WLAN deployments that we've seen is related to capacity. Typically, wireless LANS are designed with the idea that users should be able to get a signal everywhere they go. The design is focused on coverage. The problem with that approach is not only that as the device gets a weaker signal, the device and network performance drops dramatically--it's also that those networks cannot accommodate today's growing number of wireless users.

FCIO: Do you have any comments about Wi-Fi's role in managing bring-your-own-device?

Shah: First and foremost, the quality of the Wi-Fi connection is critically important for BYOD. Not only does the network need to make the most of the available capacity to handle every device that connects to it, the network also needs to play a role in allocating that capacity to the latency-sensitive and business-critical mobile apps, such as file sharing or CRM on those devices.

It's also important that Wi-Fi take an active role in the process of identifying and onboarding new employee-owned devices. The Wi-Fi network needs to capture a new BYOD device when it connects and redirect it through a provisioning workflow where it can receive network and security settings and automatically download relevant work apps.

Once the Wi-Fi network identifies a device as employee-owned, it should limit network access for that device based on various policies defined by IT. For example, many organizations will designate a "Limited Access Zone" for employee-issued devices that connect to the network. The policies associated with that Limited Access Zone grant access only to the Internet and not to corporate resources.

FCIO: The Wi-Fi Alliance announced the certification program for 802.11ac networking gear this week. Can you tell us more about this milestone and its impact?

Shah: The Wi-Fi Alliance plays an important role in maintaining balance in the wireless ecosystem by ensuring seamless connectivity and interoperability across devices from thousands of different vendors. A Wi-Fi Alliance certification provides assurance to customers that certified devices will interoperate and work with each other with minimal customer intervention.

The new 802.11ac certification program is a major milestone in the evolution and adoption of 802.11ac, especially since the IEEE 802.11ac standard is not yet ratified. Similar to when the draft 802.11n Wi-Fi certification was released prior to the IEEE ratification of 802.11n, customers will focus on devices and APs that are Wi-Fi certified before making their purchasing decisions.

FCIO: We know that Aruba is already shipping 802.11ac APs. Would you suggest that businesses implement 802.11n now, or wait for 802.11ac?

Shah: 802.11ac is in its initial stages and there are a few trains of thought on how it will roll out. One thought is that 11ac comes at a time when there are so many devices out there that uptake will be faster than 11n, since people are used to speedy wireless. Other thoughts say 11n is fast enough and we can wait for later deployment of 11ac. Some of our customers want the fastest APs available, which are 11ac. In other cases, density is important. For example, we had an 802.11a/b/g deployment and they needed to migrate to a higher density environment. In that case, they said, "We'll do 11ac since it is latest and greatest and there's not much price difference between 11ac and 11n." 

If you have lots of people, real-time communication and multimedia, we recommend 11ac. Even if enterprises don't need the additional speed available with 802.11ac today, they will benefit from the capacity gains and investment protection that 802.11ac offers. Security conscious enterprises should consider 802.11ac-based wireless intrusion protection solutions as an overlay to their 802.11n networks to protect against wireless threats that are invisible to the 802.11n networks. 

FCIO: Any advice for enterprises looking to overhaul their existing Wi-Fi infrastructure?

Shah: The next-generation workplace is all about mobility. In fact, by the end of 2013, it is expected that there will be more Internet-connected mobile devices than people. Given this, workplaces should be architected so that every class of user--employees, contractors, customers and guests--gets seamless connectivity appropriate to their role in the organization and the type of device they are using.

Instead of company-owned computers, desk phones and smart clients, many enterprises have already adopted a BYOD policy that frees IT from asset management to focus on mobile applications and services delivery. Similarly, wired devices such as desktop phones, PBXs, projectors and audio-video conferencing systems, are giving way to softphones and unified communications applications such as Microsoft Lync, coupled with streaming devices, such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) TV.

Financially, the next-generation workplace affords IT an opportunity to reduce costs by right sizing the mix of wired and wireless infrastructure in their network. For example, some enterprises are able to eliminate nearly all wired connectivity in the access infrastructure by replacing physical Ethernet ports with affordable and pervasive Wi-Fi coverage for data and voice. Others are maintaining wired infrastructure to accommodate shared resources, such as printers.

FCIO: Do you have any final comments for enterprises looking to deploying Wi-Fi?

Shah: "Sticky clients" have been synonymous with the wireless LAN and today, users just accept the resulting performance limitations and go about their business. A sticky client is a Wi-Fi device that essentially stays connected to an AP and doesn't roam well to another AP, even when the device has moved away. This can be frustrating not just for the user, but also for IT support, as a sticky client leads to poor performance and lower speeds.

The latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard will make gigabit speeds available to users, but sticky clients mean that most users will not be able to achieve those speeds in real time. Clients are typically in control of connectivity decisions, such as which AP to associate with, what speed they send and receive data, and when to change APs as they roam. Unfortunately, clients do not have a system-level view of the network and often make poor connectivity decisions--such as connecting to the first AP they hear, regardless of whether it matches their needs.

There are new developments in the market that address the sticky client issue and CIOs should look into solutions that put the WLAN infrastructure in control of client connectivity and roaming. By monitoring clients and automatically matching them to the right radio, on the right AP, the new solutions can ensure that every client has the best signal, and therefore the best speed, delivering consistent, predictable performance to every user and client.

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