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Wi-Fi has become a big data problem, but thankfully there's a big data solution: Wi-Fi analytics.

With more and more mobile users in the workplace, Wi-Fi networks are more prevalent and important than ever. But large-scale Wi-Fi deployments make it difficult for IT to understand patterns of demand, identify problems when they occur and optimally manage these networks.

There's a reason the term analytics is rapidly becoming pervasive within IT, especially networking. Today's information systems are mission-critical and yet so complex that network operators can no longer be expected to understand everything -- how well they serve mobile applications, reliability and performance issues, security threats -- with a simple glance at a management console status page.

The future of network operations places Wi-Fi analytics in the driver's seat.

But all is not lost. Analytics has solved complex problems for decades in fields as diverse as physics, chemistry, economic modeling and modern aircraft. For example, if you've ever had a window seat over the wing, perhaps you've noticed the numerous control surfaces moving all at once. That's not the pilot pulling on control cables, as was the case in the early days of aviation. Rather, the pilot indicates what to do, and then dozens of microprocessors -- with millions of lines of code -- hydraulic actuators and other mechanisms, factoring in fuel consumption, altitude, winds and other parameters, move the panels. Without real-time analytics at work, it would be impossible for modern aircrafts to operate.

Analytics considers a potentially vast array of uncorrelated, disparate and multivariant data, seeking meaning and insight that a human alone would never be able to realize. In IT, analytics involves a partnership between the power of computers and software and the visual information processing capabilities of the human brain. The power to help network and IT management visualize, understand and address problems, trends and opportunities will make analytics a fixture in essentially every networking shop over the next few years.

Today's Wi-Fi analytics is a lot like the aforementioned aircraft. There's a lot going on, and expecting a human operator to understand the ramifications of every possible combination of management console settings is unreasonable at best. Instead, IT needs real-time analytics examining the current and potential effects of those settings, ensuring that traffic flows and security are in compliance with policies and otherwise providing the information required to optimize Wi-Fi performance quickly, efficiently and precisely -- without the need for operations staff to understand their system operations in minute detail.

The future of network operations places Wi-Fi analytics in the driver's seat. Instead of just providing insight, analytics would be part of a feedback loop, using the results of real-time analytics to make changes to management console settings. Wi-Fi analytics will also steer the wired network, especially Ethernet switches that provide power and interconnect for WLAN access points.

What are the Wi-Fi challenges facing the retail industry? ZK Research analyst Zeus Kerravala explores some issues in this video.

The latest innovations to Wi-Fi analytics also align with the trend toward software-defined networking, which could start to dominate network architectures and implementations over the next five to 10 years.

Multiclient analytics, or analytics as a subscription-based service, is another innovation that improves networking by sending real-time alerts from one firm's network to another, with a similar configuration and/or equipment. This level of automation resolves problems before they affect security or end-user productivity.

Wi-Fi analytics belongs on IT's front burner, and will soon be recognized as one of the most important advances in networking -- right up there with the Ethernet switch and Wi-Fi.

Next Steps

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What the future holds for enterprise Wi-Fi

New Wi-Fi technology coming to your network

This was last published in June 2016
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