Guest blog: BYOD – think beyond the device, think about the network

Networking

by | 28 February 2013

Martin Cross, director at Connect Communications writes for CBR on how companies can provide the best way to provide network access for employee mobile devices

It's become fashionable to talk about BYOD, meaning bring your own device to work, which is more typically a smartphone or a tablet computer but equally could be a laptop. The rise of the tablet computer and its use in the corporate environment has been one of the biggest changes we've seen recently and PC companies late to the market, like Dell, have seen their share-price hit. The adoption of tablets appears to be one of the factors driving companies to look harder at Unified Communications.

Our experience has been that employees want to use tablets in addition to their laptops, not instead of them. We think that the tablet will be the device that users choose for their everyday (mobile) computing, such as browsing the Internet, reading email and reading documents, but they will still want to use laptops for more complicated work, such as spreadsheets. For these tasks, they will prefer to use their laptop although this is becoming increasingly relegated to the desk.

The tablet, being lighter, sleeker and generally cooler, is a better personal accessory and more user-friendly for portable computing. Part of the attraction of the tablet, in our opinion, is the fact that it can be a dual-use device - you can use it for work and play. This raises all the familiar security questions associated with BYOD, and even if the device is provided by the company. If the employee wants to download personal apps as well as using the standard office software, there will be questions raised about risk of company data going astray and inbound security threats. So the challenge to any company introducing tablet computing is how to take appropriate measures to keep the company network secure but without "hobbling" the device and severely impacting the user experience, because if the experience is diminished, the device simply may not be used.

It seems to easy to get carried away and implement new software solutions that manage and restrict smart phones and tablets very tightly, allowing the company to dictate what can and can't be downloaded to the device and provide the ability to remotely wipe the device. However these technologies are expensive and complex and can restrict the user experience. There is also a question on whether it is right for the company to wipe data from an employee's personal device.

In our opinion, physical and logical separation of BYOD and the corporate environment may be a simpler and more manageable approach to providing secure access with less impact on the user experience. Many companies provide a physically (or logically) separate WLAN with access only to the internet and by coupling this with VDI where all data is hosted on the company servers and the tablet simply is window to server and never holds any of the company data.

One very important difference between tablets and laptops is the way they connect to the network. With a laptop, you usually connect to the corporate network by an Ethernet connection at your desk. Some tablets may have Ethernet ports, but in practice, they do everything through a WiFi connection. This means that if employees and visitors are using tablet computers in your building, they will be relying on the WiFi connection to gain network access, and the traffic on the volume of WiFi traffic is going to increase.

What's more, tablet computers are designed with cameras and microphones and employees will expect use these - but the traffic they create this way will need different treatment compared to the typical email or internet browsing that your WLAN was designed to support. So the typical WiFi network will soon come under considerable pressure in terms of volume and traffic profile. The requirement becomes one of real time communications over WiFi - something the old WiFi network is not ready to support.

Our advice to anyone wanting to provide employees network access through tablet computers is this - first explore ways to securely extend your corporate IT services tablets, you should then test your WiFi network(s) and finally adapt the WiFi to cope with the new loading and different traffic profiles that are coming its way. The solutions to these problems do not need necessarily to be complex or expensive but probably do need some careful consideration before jumping in.

 

Martin Cross, director at Connect Communications

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