Today’s smart devices have the processing power of laptops from just a few years ago, and every new generation of device is becoming faster and more bandwidth-hungry than the last. The number of wireless devices on enterprise networks is increasing at an alarming pace, and most wireless networks are simply not designed to cope with the kind of demand faced by the growing number of high-quality, real-time applications – witness our experience with high definition video, for example.

So as users migrate from wired to wireless as their connection of choice, existing wireless networks are being crushed. According to a recent Gartner study, the explosion of wireless devices on the network is predicted to cause 80 percent of newly installed wireless networks to be obsolete by 2015 because of a lack of proper planning. The question is, what can enterprises do now to ensure a smooth transition from a wired to wireless network in the future?

No longer one device per user – the impact of BYOD

Enterprise wireless networks need to be as fast, reliable and scalable as existing wired networks. It used to be that enterprises could plan for a one-device-per-user ratio. IT departments used to have complete control of the devices that employees were using, and of the applications running on those devices.

But with BYOD, the use of multiple devices is putting significant strain on traditional wireless network bandwidth infrastructures. Building a wireless network with the ability to add more connections is one of the simplest things enterprises can do to future-proof their networks.

Even companies that don’t support a BYOD programme today should recognise that tablets and smartphones are already making their way onto the corporate network, and IT has to plan for more devices to come. And it’s important that IT managers remain firmly in control of who is on the network and how that network is administered.

Wired versus wireless

We’re increasingly seeing wired and wireless LAN networking becoming integrated, and in Gartner’s words, “Connectivity at the edge of an enterprise network is more than just a wired or wireless LAN infrastructure. Enterprises must choose infrastructure vendors that support network services, including security and management, and can integrate wired and wireless networking products.”

The recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report on wired and wireless LAN networking showcases the first time Gartner has combined LAN switching and Wireless LAN, indicating that it’s time for enterprises to get serious about evaluating unified access layer connectivity solutions.

It’s all about unified access

Unified access means providing the same level of access across wired, wireless and VPN networks within the enterprise – a quality that is becoming increasingly important in enterprise networking. It’s all about being able to know who’s on your network and control what people can do when they’re on that network.

This means that wherever, whenever and however an employee is accessing the corporate network, the IT department has an equal amount of control and can feel confident that the enterprise’s data is secure. The BYOD era requires management tools to quickly identify issues a user might have in accessing networked resources. IT has to have sufficient visibility to be able to diagnose issues efficiently.

So important attributes that enterprises should look for in their network include using just one policy interface to manage guest and employee access across the network, with knowledge of the context of their individual access, and just one security infrastructure to support wired and wireless – combined, they provide the ability to track and troubleshoot end user experience across any network.

Balancing security with business needs

The answer for IT departments is not simply to throw more bandwidth at their BYOD problems – they need to consider the network stability and security ramifications of employees’ varying Wi-Fi use, and plan accordingly for the future. To achieve this, businesses need to evaluate which devices are really needed to perform the day-to-day functions. Network access controls provide a secure method to limiting which devices can access the corporate network based on either a business-defined or a role-based policy.

There is still some way to go before the wireless network is good enough to replace fixed line completely. However, providing fast, reliable and scalable access that enables people to use their own devices wherever they are is no longer just “nice to have”. It has become central to the smooth running of any business, and employees, customers and partners will expect to be able to connect seamlessly.

Creating an Application Fluent Network, preparing for the personal cloud

By implementing an Application Fluent Network (AFN), enterprises can efficiently manage demanding real-time application and BYOD environments. And with an AFN, the enterprise network enables contextual understanding of conversations between devices and applications, making it possible for the network to optimise the user experience and network performance.

By enabling a resilient architecture, streamlined operations and automatic control, the enterprise can witness a superior user experience, lower network administration costs and provide a higher return on investment. And this will also prepare enterprises for the era of the personal cloud, which will provide users with a new level of flexibility with the devices they use for both professional and private activities.

The advent of the personal cloud means that every user can now have a scalable and nearly infinite set of resources available for whatever they need to do. So the network has to be ready to support this – but that’s another story!