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An Automated Answer To WLAN Setup Headaches

Wireless networks can be very complicated. Technology is one thing, and the policy behind implementing your WLAN is completely another. There is a secret weapon to bringing order to your wireless client base — and getting policy compliance as well — in the form of onboarding.

In its simplest incarnation, client onboarding is an automated methodology that configures client devices for use on a specific wireless network. Rather than ask the human beings that use those devices to fumble their way through several steps to get their device settings right for use on a business-grade WLAN, onboarding does it for them. More sophisticated onboarding systems might go further than basic wireless profile setup; they might also do things like checking that Windows’ integrated firewall is enabled and that profiles for other non-secure wireless networks are removed.

Out in the wireless industry, the BYOD trend is touted as a relatively new phenomena, and onboarding has come to be seen as a must-have for customers and a must-provide for most major WLAN vendors. But those of us who support technology in the higher-ed space (and arguably to a lesser degree the K-12 tech folks) have been dealing with a client device base that is largely BYOD for years. We know that security and ease of use are often at odds, and that getting multiple operating systems to play on a secure WLAN can be a pain that throbs worse as operating systems get patched, drivers become dated and network technology refreshes. There are countless home-grown ways to tackle the issue, but modern onboarding solutions are way better.

I have had the opportunity to see or try native onboarding solutions from WLAN vendors Aerohive, AirTight, Aruba, Meru and Motorola. Each is basically the same functional animal (there are only so many ways to configure client devices), with additional strengths and weaknesses to consider. In my own very large Cisco wireless deployment, we use a third-party onboarding solution called XpressConnect, from Cloudpath. This is a market that is growing, but most native onboarding solutions work only with the vendors’ own WLAN environments.

Network Computing

Categories: General.

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