The security of Wi-Fi networks is still a worry - even though most senior IT staff believe that 802.11i solves the technical problems. How can this be? Simple: those staff don't believe in their ability to deploy 802.11i securely.

This is one of the results from the just-published second annual Webtorials "Wireless LAN State-of-the-Market Report", which analyses responses from 419 subscribers to Webtorials, an educational Web site for the computer networking industry. This year, the survey is sponsored Colubris Networks.

Of those responding, over one-third were network managers learning to manage a business Wi-Fi environment (as opposed to classifying themselves as wireless experts or home users/hobbyists), and more than one-third worked for companies with 2,000 or more employees.

About half worked in North America and half worked in other parts of the world.

Good news, bad news
First, the good news: More than one-third of the survey-takers stated they believe that most WLAN security problems have been solved with technology, such as the 802.11i suite of security extensions and vendor-proprietary solutions.

The not-so-good news is that "security concerns" remain the top-ranking challenge to deploying WLANs in the enterprise.

Accounting for this seeming discrepancy is that about 24 percent of the survey base also stated they don't feel confident about properly implementing the security measures available to them for optimum benefit.

In other words, it would seem that while implementers believe the technology and solutions have been created to keep Wi-Fi networks secure, their confidence levels in deploying and maintaining those solutions properly to keep the bad guys out haven't caught up yet.

Other trends: centralised control
. From an architecture perspective, the survey appears to show a trend toward use of intelligent access points with some centralised management (55 percent); though one-third of the response base said they'd use thin access points with WLAN switches, and another third said they'd use stand-alone intelligent access points. Survey-takers were allowed to check all infrastructures that would apply to their environment. Note, too, that mesh Wi-Fi hit the radar screen with a respectable 16 percent.

It will be interesting to see how wireless LAN architectures mutate within existing enterprise accounts over the next few years, but the results seem to endorse Cisco's approach, which was updated this week at Interop.
Centralised and automated WLAN tools are necessary as WLAN deployments hit mainstream areas of the enterprise and grow large and difficult to administer on an AP-by-AP basis. However, it's not a shoo-in that distributed switches/controllers with slimmed-down APs are necessarily going to exclusively dominate the enterprise.

Cisco, which has long sold intelligent WLAN access points (AP) with increasing degrees of centralised management, has garnered more than 40 percent of the enterprise AP market for years. As you probably know, Cisco acquired WLAN switch start-up Airespace earlier this year.

That move happened when it became evident that growing enterprises wanted access to the innovative radio frequency (RF) tools and configuration and planning capabilities that the newer WLAN companies were bringing to the table.

In the meantime, though, former Airespace competitors are trying to beat Cisco/Airespace to the punch in permeating Cisco's own accounts with interoperability solutions of their own. For example, WLAN switch-maker Trapeze Networks announced that this month, Cisco Aironet 350, 1100, and 1200 access points can become members of a Trapeze-managed network with just a command-line change to the AP configuration. (Trapeze made the same announcement regarding Proxim AP2000s and AP4000s.)

A free upgrade to Trapeze's Ringmaster switch software will allow the Cisco APs to be part of a Trapeze Mobility Domain, supporting Trapeze's wireless planning, monitoring, and reporting capabilities, according to Bruce Van Nice, Trapeze vice president of marketing.

The fly in the ointment, though, will be that Cisco AP configuration will still need to be handled from a Cisco management tool, such as Cisco's Wireless LAN Solutions Engine.