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Issue of July 2002 
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In Person - Wireless Technologies
The wireless future

Wireless is the new buzz word among networking and software vendors. Taoling Xie, Director, Mobile eBusiness, Computer Associates, talks about the future of wireless technologies, and the issues enterprises are likely to face when adopting wireless solutions. by Sandeep Ajgaonkar

What is CA's vision of the future of wireless and mobile computing?
The wireless phenomenon is reshaping enterprise connectivity worldwide and is definitely here to stay. Enterprises need information mobility for better customer interactions. Enterprises can benefit a great deal in terms of improving their work processes by offering anywhere, anytime access to improve employee productivity as well as customer satisfaction since real-time access to information can be critical to serving customers.

CA believes that wireless and mobile technologies are here to stay and they are going to change the way enterprises provide information access to its employees and customers. In the enterprise of the future, employees will be free to perform their job functions from their workplace of choice, whether from a stationary desk, or while on the move.

When you say Wireless infrastructure, do you mean WLAN (Wireless LAN) or WWAN (Wireless Wide Area Network) technologies that are based on CDMA or GSM?
We mean all of them. This includes WLAN based on 802.11 which is becoming popular in India and other Asian countries, and HiperLAN/2 which is prevalent in Europe. The 802.11 standard is rapidly gaining speed and acceptability worldwide. This standard facilitates wireless transmission up to 11 Mbps all together while newer protocols like the 802.11a transmits data at 54 Mbps.

We also mean the WWAN technologies that take care of your roaming needs by extending the wireless access coverage over larger geographical areas. WWAN technologies are usually provided by wireless operators and are based on CDMA or GSM.

What is the rate at which companies are adopting wireless technologies as a viable business tool?
There are different statistics apparently. We conducted a survey during CA World 2001, about a year ago. We were really surprised by the results. Over 60 percent of our customers said they already have some sort of wireless application or have started implementing one. And that's consistent with the number of queries we are receiving from our customers asking about our wireless solutions.

I think about 60 percent of the large enterprises worldwide are taking advantage of wireless technologies to streamline their business processes.

I wouldn't be surprised if the percentage is now even higher. In the next couple of years this should reach 100 percent. Analyst groups give slightly different percentages.

What issues do enterprises need to consider when migrating from a legacy system to wireless?
The number one concern is security. In a survey conducted during CA World 2001, 75 percent of our customers were extremely concerned about wireless enterprise security. This percentage is rather high.

There are many issues when it comes to security over wireless networks. Wireless networks do not follow the rules of traditional wired networks; many times the signals are carried miles beyond the physical perimeter of the enterprise. This makes it easier to intercept these signals by using monitoring tools like wireless sniffers which can capture information you transact or the conversatation you have, etc.

The second equally important issue is managing the wireless infrastructure. When managing a wireless network, you need to think of both the wired as well as mobile components that go into a wireless network. The wired components include servers, desktops, and access points that need to be monitored. On the wireless component side you have a variety of mobile devices trying to connect to the enterprise to access data. This makes it absolutely necessary to secure, manage and optimize these devices. You also need to consider the mobile applications and gateways that need to be maintained in order to ensure better performance and reliability.

Another issue is integration. Enterprises don't want to throw away what they already have in terms of enterprise applications. The challenge is to wireless-enable existing applications, or develop new applications that work seamlessly with existing applications that are meant to run on a wired infrastructure.

There is also a need to ensure that the applications are tuned to take care of the individual capability of each mobile device. For example, some of these devices may have color displays while others may not.

The interface between the mobile device and the server need to be smart enough to take care of different devices.

What are the tangible and intangible benefits an enterprise will gain from implementing any wireless technology?
We have had numerous customers using wireless for different purposes. For example we have Key3Media, the company that organizes the Comdex and NetWorld+Interop shows. They are using our technology to manage their WLANs as well as their exhibition services which are wireless enabled through CA technologies. In this case you achieve quite a few things. Business-wise you make sure that WLAN is going to be managed, so you save on management and labour cost. You also save time in terms of making sure that the WLANs are constantly available.

Another area that could benefit immensely is the service desk. Every major enterprise has a service desk or helpdesk solution. Support or technical personnel who want to troubleshoot a critical problem at a remote location can do so using a handheld device. This improves the productivity by more than 50 percent.

There are other areas like call centers that would benefit from wireless technologies. The benefits wireless technologies offer would vary from business to business, but in general it would still be in line with improving productivity and response time as well as customer service and satisfaction rate.

Implementing a wireless solution isn't exactly cheap. How can a CIO/CTO justify the implementation of wireless technology in terms of ROI?
ROI is dependent on the cost factor. Wireless technologies are becoming much cheaper than laying a cable. For example getting a WLAN solution is much cheaper than going for a wired LAN and making them work especially if you consider the installation costs. You have to knock a hole in the wall, ensure that the cables are covered so that no one will trip over the cables, etc. For WLANs these issues do not exist.

For individual applications we have had interesting formulas to calculate ROI. Using CA technology we would be able to help customers calculate in advance what would be the ROI or the saving he can possible achieve using CA technologies, especially our enterprise management solutions to simplify the complexity of having wireless networks through the enterprise and that would be easily justified through the ROI formula we have developed.

As you mentioned earlier there are many security issues when it comes to WLANs. There are issues with mobile devices. Then there are issues with the transport mechanism itself. So in what way does one address these concerns?
Security issues with wireless technologies have been around for a year and half. Sometime back the University of Maryland published a report revealing the weaknesses of WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy a wireless security protocol) that is commonly used by WLAN based on 802.11 protocol. All versions of this protocol whether it is 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g,or 802.11h share the same security definitions and standards.

Also, many vendors selling WLAN solutions don't even bother to turn on the encryption. And enterprises deploying WLANs forget to turn it back on. Even when it is turned back on with 64-bit encryption, it is not secure enough. Hackers can crack WEP using free downloads from the Internet such as the "AirSnort". "AirSnort" can easily crack the WEP protocol in real time.

I recommend two things that enterprises can do: one is to enable all the default security features already present in the products. In most cases these are not enough because the access controls used in current WLAN standards are not very robust. They should also look into third party software solutions to address this problem. After all, the security of the overall system is as strong as the weakest link.

Sandeep Ajgaonkar can be reached at sandeepa@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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