02:14 PM

Making Connections, Wirelessly And Securely

Cisco and others offer tools to monitor wireless LAN access points.

Increasingly, IT managers are realizing the benefits of wireless connectivity, but anywhere, anytime access comes at a price: The wireless networks they're building can be beastly to administer and secure. To combat these complex management issues, technology vendors are scrambling to sell smart tools that take over diagnostic and monitoring tasks.

The CiscoWorks Wireless LAN Solution Engine, released last week, is a rack-mounted appliance that monitors all access points in a Cisco Aironet wireless LAN, one of the market leaders. It measures performance, configuration, security settings, and other attributes of the LAN, and makes that data available via a Web interface. Having a single place to check on the different devices in a network and make changes can help IT departments lower troubleshooting and maintenance costs. The Cisco appliance is available now for $15,995.

Until now, companies have used a variety of third-party offerings from vendors such as Bluesocket Inc. and Vernier Networks to bring these capabilities to their Aironet wireless LANs. "It sounds like they needed to pull one out because there are so many third-party vendors," says Yankee Group analyst Sarah Kim.

The wireless LAN at Stanford University is based on Cisco hardware, and the school wanted to manage it with a Cisco tool. Chudi Igboemeka, a member of Stanford's Information Technology Systems and Services department, is glad that option now exists. An early adopter of the Wireless LAN Solution Engine, Igboemeka says the system's performance monitoring and reporting tools make it useful for planning purposes.

Stanford's wireless LAN is expanding, and the Cisco appliance has helped Igboemeka to better manage growth. "This lets us be on top of users rather than just react to them," he says.

Many other vendors are developing products to keep wireless LANs secure (see story, "Networks Without A Safety Net"). IBM said last week that it has developed a software agent that installs on wireless clients within a company, so that each client becomes a monitoring device, analyzing network security. AirDefense Inc. shipped a similar product earlier this month.

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