Network managers have one job: Keep the network running with enough capacity to deal with whatever comes its way while also maintaining security and optimal performance. This complicated task has gotten even more complicated as the number and type of devices that networks must accommodate has grown.
These days, the biggest challenges for networks come from mobile devices, bring your own device (BYOD) policies and the Internet of Things (IoT). Retail establishments, for example, typically have highly distributed networks and centralized IT departments with few staff. Traditionally, this model worked well since stores used a limited number of stationary point-of-sale devices and wired security cameras. Plus, network traffic was predictable.
The retail landscape has changed, however, especially due to mobile IoT devices. Disruptors like Apple use mobile devices for the point-of-sale, causing the industry in general to move that way to remain competitive. Retailers find themselves needing to support in-store sales differently than before — with mobile devices for quicker service for customers and wireless security cameras. It's now easier to deploy physical infrastructure, but harder for the network to handle.
Three Critical Elements
Retailers that deploy wireless point-of-sale devices have to update the operating systems for those devices. Imagine a store with 20 point-of-sale devices that all need an update. If they all download at the same time and the network isn't equipped to route those requests properly, it can bring down the whole network. Imagine if that happened at noon on a Saturday.
The network has to understand how the devices behave and how they're used. It also has to schedule activities like operating system updates at a time that doesn't interrupt the network or store operations.
What must a network manager do to make sure the network can withstand these varying forces and still perform as the business needs it to? The key is to recognize and deal with the challenges of three critical elements:
- User experience: The network architecture must support mobility overall and BYOD and IoT policies specifically.
- Performance: Networks must meet the latest wireless standards, handle varying user requirements (including remote access) and optimize bandwidth.
- Common management: IT organizations must leverage a single platform to manage and secure disparate network components, such as wired and wireless devices, and to seamlessly integrate third-party applications and platforms.
Understanding User Behavior and Context
The solution lies in creating the right policies for using the network. And that requires understanding user behavior and context — like when it is and isn't appropriate to update an operating system for mobile devices. This enables network administrators to effectively identify risks and secure the network end-to-end.
Associating policies with users eliminates the need to create specific policies for wired and wireless devices or to have to manually deploy security as each device joins the network. By creating a policy that understands context (such as retailers with mobile point-of-sale devices) and unifying how they're managed, IT organizations can ensure the network operates at capacity and performs optimally.
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