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How to Avoid BYOD Bandwidth Woes

Added 4th Dec 2012

While nobody is predicting that the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise will create a full-blown bandwidth catastrophe, IT will have to move quickly to ensure satisfactory performance for employees accessing company data over wireless links.

The biggest issue is ensuring that data is available when users want it, and that wireless connections are secure and reliable. While this is also true for wired networks, mobile computing poses an additional burden on IT. “Mobile computing offers a unique challenge. We can’t predict where users are going to be, and we have to be prepared to support users anywhere, all the time,” says John Edgar, VP-IT, US Postal Service.

Here’s how you can ensure your enterprise can BYOD without bandwidth worries.

Ensure connectivity. If anyone is juggling massive numbers of mobile users, it’s UPS. During peak periods, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, mobile employees can number up to 160,000 over wireless connections. Although the company’s mobile infrastructure is largely built around a custom device called the DIAD V, which helps drivers track routing of standard small packages, among others, the issues are similar to those associated with standard off-the-shelf devices.

“To help manage wireless traffic, we provide two connection options for the DIAD. Specifically, the device supports two different radio technologies—GPRS and CDMA. This allows us to stay connected and better manage our wireless costs,” says Todd Brown, a project manager at UPS.

In addition to the 100,000 DIAD devices used worldwide in the field, over 14,000 company managers use smartphones. Customers are also tracking shipments using mobile devices: More than 2,500,000 of the company’s mobile apps have been downloaded for iPhones, BlackBerries and Androids.

To ensure satisfactory performance for mobile users, UPS has had to address two major issues, says Brown.

“Two of the biggest issues tied to mobility are reliability and availability. Getting data is critical, but providing information fast keeps our customers happy. To ensure quality of service, we look at the carriers in a region and make sure the DIADs have more than one communication option,” says Brown.

Count on carriers. Of course, carriers and network operators carry the bulk of the bandwidth onus, and IT leaders recommend diligence when it comes to capacity.

“We have devices everywhere, which we tie to capacity. We work with the carriers if we start to see packets dropping because we run out of buffer space. There can be congestion at the tower, for example. We ask the carrier if they have a cost structure around the high end because the site needs back up. An area where we’re cautiously concerned is tablets and LTE,” says Brown at UPS.

Working with carriers is a common theme in order to ensure that users are getting the performance they need, says Jean-Claude Delcroix, an analyst at Gartner. “IT can set up a small, manageable list of key performance indicators to keep tabs on coverage, access to data inside and outside the company, uplink and downlink times and support. For performance, [IT managers] should keep it simple, and both the company and its carriers can measure those things. They need to be able to tell the carrier what kind of data users access. For example, delineate the requirements for tablets,” he says.

According to Brownlee Thomas, an analyst at Forrester Research, this is especially important over wide-area networks, where increases in mobile users accessing company data is mostly over cellular connections. “The mobility explosion will continue, but this doesn’t impact the corporate network unless the company has built out a WAN environment to accommodate on-premises mobility using PSTN for both mobile voice and data services. This is an area where the cellular network operators have a long way to go to ensure strong application performance,” she says.

VPNs can help. VPNs can help to ensure that an increase in Internet-based data access by mobile users doesn’t slow down. A combination of dedicated Internet access services and a self-managed VPN—as long as data at the site doesn’t require high performance—is a satisfactory solution. This is especially true for emerging technologies such as WiMax and LTE wireless.

“Sites using applications that require more performance predictability or business critical applications, such as ERP, require MPLS VPNs. These are increasingly managed externally by their network operator service providers. A definite trend is increasing bandwidth requirements for new communications technologies like VoIP, videoconferencing and UC,” says Thomas.

It’s up to the IT department to monitor how well a carrier handles the variegated mix of users and the kind of data they need to access over mobile connections. IT should monitor and track performance of their carriers, says Gartner’s Delcroix.

“A mobile carrier has to support everything from my workforce to field reps and execs, all of whom use different profiles, and that even includes the repair guy accessing forms, manuals and photos. Management has to keep an eye on performance, monitor that and make sure carriers track it. They have to keep their carrier on its toes,” he says.

With two and a half million customer visits to its mobile Web and mobile app during the past year and nearly 300,000 first-time downloads of its mobile app, Aetna, the insurance giant, has had its hands full. More than a third of the company’s employees telecommute full time, and the company provides multimedia, video streaming and telepresence through contact center consolidation and a virtual desktop infrastructure, says CTO Richard Leonard.

“Our internal network includes dual-carrier MPLS connectivity to all datacenter and office locations. Inter-datacenter connectivity is provided through Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM)-based fiber supplied by diverse carriers, and Internet access is provided through dual carrier OC-48 circuits. This makes us well positioned to handle the connectivity requirements of our mobile application portfolio,” he says.

Elsewhere, IT managers at Pfizer expect a 200 percent increase in mobile users accessing company data. Last year, 50,000 mobile users accessed that data over wireless connections and as these numbers have increased, authentication became an issue.

“Probably the area that got over-subscribed was authentication services. Companies we acquired had distributed authentication but we’re moving toward centralizing that. The former blew our gaskets. ,” says Beth Boucher, senior director, infrastructure, at Pfizer. 

Throughout all this, mobile device management (MDM) is key.

“We’ve implemented MDM so we’re looking at both the devices and the users themselves. We are validating both the user and the device—not just who you are but what is your device?” says Fogl.   

 

 

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