Systems management giant Computer Associates is planning to jump into the wireless LAN management area, already a site of confusion as a plethora of products hit the market and existing wireless management players take on security vendors.

CA's Wireless Site Management (WSM), currently in beta, will be launched in the fourth quarter, according to the company. "WSM ties together our whole wireless strategy," promised William Peterson, director of product marketing for CA.

The product will have three key areas: WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) access key management, physical limits, as well as events and reporting. The WEP function will schedule automatic generation, distribution, rotation, and synchronisation of keys, Peterson said [and, we would hope, will also cover the WEP replacements, WPA and WPA 2 / 802.11i - Ed].

The product will also let IT managers set physical parameters, such as location and time-based requirements for access to the WLAN. For instance, a particular user might be allowed to log into the WLAN when on the corporate campus, but not when off the campus. Likewise, an IT administrator could set time limits so that a consultant has access to the WLAN during the hours of 9am and 5pm, but not otherwise. This feature has something in common with products like Newbury Networks' WiFi Watchdog, reviewed here. WSM will also generate networks reports, including ones for security vulnerabilities or performance metrics.

The arrival of a big player promising to do handle wireless security and management under one existing brand should appeal to customers, said Stephen Elliott, networking analyst at IDC. "A lot of IT shops have been taking a piecemeal approach to security and management for wireless LANs. It's an afterthought, really, for a lot of them. There are a lot of products out there that try to handle security and management for wireless LANs, but none have a real complete solution," Elliott said, adding that selling this as both a standalone product and one integrated with CA's flagship Unicenter should help it. "But this is still a developing market and I think this is just the first generation of products to address these issues," he said.

Despite CA's big name, and the tendency for customers to trust one company to integrate all their problems, the company is entering a very competitive field, and may have to buck its ideas up to genuinely compete with existing specialist products on the market.

The first release will not include features like the ability to create customised reports, and support for standards other than 802.11b. Another future feature is the ability to manage roaming of VoIP phones, something that users are allegedly demanding (and here's why we think users couldn't care less about it). "We're waiting for the (roaming) technology," Peterson said.