How to manage bandwidth hogs of the mobile device age

Personal mobile devices will hog your network resources unless you are prepared. Here is what network admins must do now.

The rise of enterprise mobility is undeniable and shows no sign of slowing, according to Nemertes Research, and in 2013 65% of companies reported growth in mobile device populations. On average, device counts rose by nearly 33%. Further, says Nemertes, 76% of companies expect increasing smartphone and tablet device counts in 2014. As app-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled devices multiply, the need to support more mobile endpoints quickly creates new challenges for company networks. To properly support the tidal wave of wireless devices, companies need a modern network infrastructure that has responsive connectivity with appropriate security measures.

From email clients to video streaming to Angry Birds -- launched only on lunch breaks, of course -- apps gobble up a significant slice of bandwidth.

Smartphones and tablets affect the network in several ways. First, they drive companies to shift more rapidly to a WLAN-oriented infrastructure, one that employs quality of service (QoS) in place of wired LAN (WLAN) connectivity. Second, they are straining WLAN capacity. Third, they require governance, which means IT departments must consider both mobile device management (MDM) and a hybrid network MDM.

Apps are bandwidth hogs

Behind this mobility buzz are the apps. From email clients to video streaming to Angry Birds -- launched only on lunch breaks, of course -- apps gobble up a significant slice of bandwidth. Email applications won't heavily burden networks, but video streaming apps are bandwidth hogs and VDI apps require strong, consistent connectivity. When devices overtax an access point (AP), latency rises and when latency rises, help desk tickets soon follow. QoS queuing technologies from Aruba, Cisco, Juniper and others give the right-of-way to mission-critical apps. But in most cases, QoS can't singlehandedly solve all bandwidth problems; companies can't continue to squeeze more devices onto the network without also increasing APs and bandwidth. So, to handle the increased number of mobile devices, companies are adding bandwidth to their WLAN. On average, companies nearly doubled WLAN by adding 90% capacity in 2013. Although WLAN is trending upward, companies show fairly significant disparity in capacity investments likely driven by company size and their respective wireless roadmaps. Of this 90% increase, 71% of capacity demand came from mobile devices. Consumer and productivity apps account for half of mobile-driven increases.

Network-based security

While end users have all the fun with their smartphones and tablets, administrators must face the security threats these mobile devices bring. Rogue APs and unenrolled devices are two concerns. Fortunately, network-based security addresses these issues and even makes IT's day-to-day operations easier. In fact, 41% of companies already use some form of network-based security for mobile devices. All major mobility management vendors offer safeguards against rogue APs, device health checks and device fingerprinting when users request access to the network. These stopgaps monitor enrollment status, ensure that antivirus protection and applications are current, and determine whether an MDM client is installed. The systems then funnel users to profile-based repositories, such as a secure, limited guest account with network access, or to a more robust network segment with broader access to applications and data. All this is done automatically without IT touching the device. For all the things MDM does well, on-device MDM clients are required to perform desirable functions like remote wipe and remote lock. This leaves network-based security capabilities as more of a supplemental technology, but they are still an important level of protection, especially for a company with a lot of unrecognized devices on its network.

Mobility changes the game

Enterprise mobility changed everything; from the way lines of business do their jobs to infrastructure requirements and IT governance. Without a strong network and both the bandwidth and security toolset to properly monitor mobile endpoints, IT administrators face an uphill battle. Mobility management requires bold steps. Forward-looking companies allow end users to fully exploit their smartphones and tablets. Companies that delay in investing in their networks will fall behind their peers and put company assets at risk.

This was last published in April 2014

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