As more IT executives and companies realize the importance of a total and holistic approach to mobile management -- one that at the very least includes security, RF signal tracking, user accountability, multi-level password protection, and clearly-defined restrictions -- more vendors are rushing to inject that term into their product and technology descriptions. As a result, there is suddenly a lot of confusion concerning mobile management and its definition, to the point where we now have multiple definitions and assorted flavors of this technology segment. Also, the term 'mobile management' (or even 'wireless management') is being used so casually by vendors that it has almost been elevated to he status of 'buzzword' -- which we all know is the 'kiss of death' in this industry.
The way we see it, there are presently three distinct segments of mobile management, each of which can function pretty well on its own although they become more potent when used in combination. These segments are: Identification, which involves the used of passwords, authentication routines, and various access procedures and policies; Performance Management (and deployment), which basically focuses on hardware layout (access points, etc.) and is designed to tweak optimal performance out of a wireless network; and User Control and Security, which obviously involves letting authenticated users in and keeping unauthorized people out of a wireless network. We list these segments in no particular order of importance, although security is easily the top concern.
While nearly every wireless vendor on the planet claims some degree or level of mobile management, and offers different tools and procedures, there are clearly some limitations when it comes to what can and cannot be accomplished by a specific technology. For example, Airespace, Inc. specializes in device tracking and location-aware systems. In fact, the company's Airespace Wireless Location Services (AWLS) is designed to provide intrusion detection, asset management, and even blend nicely with Emergency 911 (e911) services, intrusion protection, and asset management. It managers can use this system, as well as other tools provided by the company, to assign user access according to physical location.
Airespace's AWLS can also be utilized as an active RFID tracking system to keep tabs on tagged goods, products, and (Holy Big Brother, Batman!) people. The company claims that its small RFID transceiver tag has a battery than can last up to three years and transceiver with a battery that lasts up to three years, and the device can be easily attached to anything that moves (or is not supposed to move.) Hospitals, for example, can use such a system to track expensive pieces of equipment that is moved throughout a medical facility. Similarly, they can use they system to track key people in a hospital to make sure the right teams are available when duty calls.
AirMagnet, Inc. is another well-known player in the wireless industry, that currently offers a variety of tools and technologies that are designed to help users map out their wireless LAN systems, troubleshoot connections, and even generate eye-catching (and useful) graphs that can be used to measure signal strength and network noise. The AirMagnet products can be used for intrusion prevention and rogue AP (access point) detection, but at the end of the day the company's strength lies in its expertise in creating products that help IT executives and network managers to better align their AP antennae and survey their wireless assets to create killer wireless networks.
Newbury Networks, Inc.) is a relatively newer player in this market that actually got its start peddling location-based technology and tools (since the company's proprietary and now patented technology can be used to accurately pinpoint wireless devices and activity within a specified wireless 'zone' – which might very well be a single building or college campus. Originally, the company positioned its technology as a way to relate content to a specific location, and then channel only that content to wireless users within that space. The technology and concept was sold to a handful of early adopters (hotels and museums), but never really took off for to reasons: 1. Location-based technology, at the time, was a relatively new concept in search of a market; and 2. Location-based technology was not really an application, but was a 'technology' and therefore difficult to sell without some defining applications that could be wrapped around it. It was sort of like developing a neat new operating system, but not yet having any applications developed that could use it.
In any case, Newbury quickly shifted its strategic focus to one element of its location-aware repertoire, wireless security, and quickly started getting noticed by customers in both the private and government sectors. Since the company's overall strategy is, however, based on location-tracking and tracking all wireless activity within a defined area Newbury is also in a unique position to cover a lot of bases when it comes to mobile management. In fact, the company just unveiled an integrated suite of wireless management products, collectively called Wi-Fi Workplace, which can be used to pre-authorize and virtually link individuals to specific areas of a company and the data that is confined to those areas; instantly identify both rogue access points and 'non-rogue accidental associations; and to closely monitor the activities within all wireless areas, link access and usage directly to individuals, provide instant notifications of security breaches, and generate a detailed audit trail.
Company officials tell us the Newbury tools can also be used to better position wireless access points and map out networks so that signals don't degrade when they ricochet off walls, elevator shafts and even people (since we all know how fickle and finicky 802.11 can be in a typical office environment). Since the Newbury technology is essentially based on measuring wireless signal strength within a wireless environment (which is a huge oversimplification!), then it can easily be used to measure performance and develop a wireless blueprint. But, that is not the company's core business, nor is it the be all and end all of mobile management.
Mobile management, as we see it, is a collection and collaboration of different technologies and techniques that is usually based on measuring RF traffic within a wireless space. Just how effective and comprehensive this management is, however, depends on which tools are put into play and how well they play together within this environment. And, just like in grade school, some individuals play much better than others, even though they may technically be in the same class.
Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to http://www.shorelineresearch.com.