Enterprise WLAN: Still Growing

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The above reference to the Energizer Bunny notwithstanding, the enterprise market for 802.11 WLAN products is still growing, not just chugging along like that pink bunny.

According to Infonetics Research, annual revenue is expected to grow in the double digits through 2010, as end-user organizations across most verticals adopt WLAN equipment to leverage the benefits of mobility for data and voice networking.

If you’re anywhere near the WLAN industry, that’s just more good news. It’s even better news if you are seeking a career in the WLAN sector. More equipment in the enterprise means more jobs in the enterprise, because, like it or not, it takes people to plan, stage, install, implement, troubleshoot, administer and secure any network.

An enterprise WLAN is no different: It takes the right training to implement enterprise wireless LAN technology properly. The CWNP program offers the only vendor-neutral WLAN certifications in the IT industry. CWNP teaches the technology behind every product.

Unfortunately, far too many enterprise IT engineers take wireless for granted, ultimately because of the term “plug and play.” Go down to your local computer or electronics store and you can get a really good, feature-rich 802.11a/b/g and now 802.11n WLAN router for $75 or so. That’s great. It’s great because what people use in their homes is being pushed more and more into what they use in their workplace, and WLAN is the rule, not the exception, to that market trend.

What’s not so great is some — not all, but some — of these home wireless network routers can be set up in a few minutes by someone with little experience in networking. The result is that because some of these home routers can work right out of the box if set up correctly, all of them get the reputation for being plug and play. That false notion gets carried into the workplace.

Say the IT person of a given organization inherits the task of setting up wireless for the office. Naturally, this IT person takes the path of least resistance, and gets a SOHO router for the office, gets it up and running in an hour or so, and proudly reports to his boss, “We’ve got wireless!”

There is much rejoicing, both in that office and in the smile of the next person who needs to “borrow” a WLAN connection to check his e-mail in that section of town.

This same scenario proliferates to a pretty high level in the enterprise, until something like the T.J.Maxx disaster occurs (in which credit card companies reported that an IT security breach exposed account information for 94 million customers), because enterprise WLAN security is not plug and play.

Because enterprise WLAN is not plug and play, the value of learning the technology behind it grows as the market for enterprise WLAN products grows. And the enterprise WLAN market is growing fast and steadily.

Plan, Stage, Install, Implement, Troubleshoot, Administer and Secure?
That’s right, plan, stage, install, implement, troubleshoot, administer and secure. Not plug and play. So, what do you have to know to do these jobs? Let’s start with “plan.”

Plan: Site Survey. Back in the day — you know, 10 years ago, before the term “Wi-Fi” existed — the first item in your site survey kit was comfortable shoes, because you had to walk and walk and walk and walk, usually carrying a heavy laptop or pushing a cart full of your toys of choice. Today, the methodologies available to accomplish a proper site survey have changed, but the end result must be the same. The most basic questions of where you want RF coverage, what bandwidth you need, what apps you can run and where you can actually get coverage must all be answered.

Stage, Install and Implement: Building What You Said You Would Build. This is what should work, if you did your site survey right. Your site survey should have helped you decide what specific solution to implement based on the customer’s needs rather than the brand you like the most. That means you have to know more than just your favorite manufacturer’s products. You have to know the technology behind all the products so that you can choose the best solution. Every brand has its strengths and weaknesses, and there is no “one size fits all” for an enterprise WLAN implementation. These products don’t install and configure themselves. You have to learn how they work. When you know the technology behind all the products, the hard part becomes navigating the user interface.

Troubleshoot and Administer: Analyze. Do you know how to use an 802.11 network analyzer? Which one? This might be the only time in an implementation where you actually get to choose what tool you use because it’s the tool you like the most or know the best. That’s great, but troubleshooting, by its very name, implies that there’s trouble. That means your customer’s network is not running the way it should be, the way they want it to be or the way you told them it would be. Now, you are the man in the spotlight. Fix it, and you’re a hero — if you know how to use the tools down to the packet level. Analyzers only do what you know to tell them to do, and the best way to know how to use any 802.11 protocol analyzer is to learn from the experts.

Secure: Well, uh, Secure. Remember T.J.Maxx? The most advanced WLAN controller cannot configure itself for the appropriate level of security for every scenario, including protecting hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers. Only you can secure your wireless LAN, Smokey. Yes, it would be nice if WLAN controllers were self-aware and self-securing, but we’re not quite there yet. You have to learn the technology behind WLAN controllers, both traditional cell architecture and single-cell architecture. You have to learn the technology behind WIDS and WIPS. How do you learn all the technology behind all the products? You could attend Cisco, Aruba, Trapeze, Motorola, AirMagnet, AirDefense, AirTight, Meru, WildPackets and every other vendor’s product training classes. Each class is three to five days, so that might take some time.

A better way is to pursue the CWNP family of enterprise WLAN certifications: CWNA, CWSP and CWNE. The CWNP program is vendor neutral, which means you learn the technology behind all the products while using many different brands of products in a four- to five-day hands-on training class. Once you learn the technology, then you can choose to support the products you like the best, based on your expertise in the technology, and stake your claim to the sector of the market that suits your skills the best. Then, attend a couple of manufacturers’ product training classes, so you can appreciate the amazing features and functionalities being built into today’s enterprise-class WLAN products.

Market leaders Aruba Networks and AirMagnet are just two of the manufacturers that recommend you earn your CWNA or CWSP before entering their training and certification programs. Cisco employs more CWNAs, CWSPs and CWNEs than any other WLAN manufacturer. What does that say about the value of technology training and certification?

Whether you self-study or attend a four- to five-day class to prepare you for the only vendor-neutral WLAN certification on the market, when you earn your CWNA or your CWSP, you’ll understand all the manufacturer’s products, so you can talk the talk and walk the walk intelligently about any product. Should you dare to take the road to CWNE, you choose to join an elite group of experts in the wireless market.

And, last, but not least, when you earn your CWNA or CWSP, you make yourself more valuable to yourself, your employer and your customers. CertMag’s 2007 Salary Survey showed again, for the fourth year in a row, that CWNA and CWSP certifications bring value to your career.

In 2004, CertMag’s Salary Survey reported CWNAs earning $70,000 a year on average. In 2005, the survey reported CWNAs earning $69,000, a slight slip, but the following year, CWNAs rallied to $74,000. And, the 2007 Salary Survey reported CWNAs earning $78,000 on average. These certifications are proving to hold real value for IT pros, and their value is clearly growing.

If you want to run headlong into a career in the fast-growing enterprise WLAN industry, learn networking. Then, learn wireless technologies in the CWNP program, and then apply your expertise to the best products in the WLAN market.

Kevin Sandlin is the chief executive officer and primary business and marketing manager for Planet3 Wireless. Sandlin has 12 years of high-tech marketing, management, business and product development experience. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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