Bleeding Edge Technology such as Wi-Fi : Cautions and Roadmap towards secure, effective, and affordable deployment.

Date:   Monday , May 05, 2008

Bleeding-edge technologies such as Wi-Fi equip the organizations with new, innovative tools and facilitate enhancing efficiency, productivity and flexibility. Rolling-out fresh technology effectively encourages unprecedented growth; however, repercussions of the half-baked and lax implementation at minimum are counterproductive and are largely dangerous.

Migrating to latest technologies such as Wi-Fi need significant investment in the form of-finance, infrastructure and training. Fresh technology brings along with them new security and management challenges, hence to operate in effective and secure manner organizations need to understand the significance of thoroughly analyzing the gaps in the offerings, its dependent technologies and their implications, and must focus on filling the gaps. Moreover, they should also complement their new deployment with tools that can help them extract true value as well as help mitigate problems. The destructive repercussion of using technology without understanding its implications is well illustrated by the TJX breach in January 2007. TJX Companies disclosed massive security breach (cost projected at one billion dollars over five years by Forrester Research). At least 45.7 million credit- and debit-card numbers and personal information such as social security numbers, driver's license numbers, and military identification of 451,000 customers was stolen. The breach was initiated using the flawed WEP-encrypted WLAN at the Marshalls store near St. Paul, Minnesota, USA in July 2005. The WEP is well known for its gaps and it can be easily compromised by cracking tools-easily and freely available over the World Wide Web. TJX implemented cutting-edge WLAN technology in their premises; however, it failed to understand or was unaware of the importance of upgrading the technology with latest available security patches and paying huge costs for their inadequate investigation.

To reap true benefits of any new technology, thorough study and appropriate investments are vital. The same applies to the expanding wireless space. Among enterprises certain vertical markets are absorbing wireless infrastructure at quick pace such as healthcare, education, retail, manufacturing and hospitality that have distinct application usage, ranging from E-prescriptions in healthcare industry to Guest Internet access in hospitality sector. Mainstream enterprises, however, are deploying Wi-Fi technology at gradual pace to support general purpose business applications-email, Internet, server access and instant messaging-to increase the productivity of the mobile workforce. The mobile workforce falls in two broad categories. First, users who require mobility inside their offices such as-meeting rooms, cafeteria and lobby and also certain employee who seek to work for extended hours from home as well as those who work remotely. The core as well as supplementary solutions for wireless space, however, is widely distinct from conventional wired counterparts. Hence, while instant and obvious benefits of WiFi have made WLANs a big success in public, private, and enterprise sectors, unfortunately, the adoption of correct security and performance measures for WLANs is lagging far behind the fast pace at which these networks are being deployed. With the presence of WiFi in most laptops and handhelds, the simplicity of independently installing WiFi networks, and the ease of exploiting wireless vulnerabilities have together escalated the risks manifold. Without the appropriate security and performance optimizing tools in place, productivity is at peril and yet another breach similar to TJX is inevitable.

With this caution, numerous organization are currently shunning the security and performance concerns by utilizing appropriate tools that provide robust, round the clock security and performance enhancement solutions. The early technology adaptors of these new and innovative offerings have already begun to deploy these new solutions to mitigate their daily problems. These systems though useful, have their own challenges. They are usually expensive to deploy. The high-costs deter medium and small enterprises to implement them. Ironically, as discussed, not implementing them may expose them to the suboptimal performance and security lapses-exposing them to bigger problems. Hence, it seems natural that the demand for solutions which are economical and effective to climb in the forthcoming years.

Recent technology growth in the area of Software as a Service (SaaS) is targeted to solve exactly this problem. SaaS is a generic model which shifts conventional model of product license to new service subscription. SaaS is a disruptive way of delivering applications. The application vendor hosts the software and the customers access it over the Internet. Customers pay for subscribing and using the software versus owning it. This is a radical shift from the traditional, perpetual license-based application delivery where the customer owns and maintains the software, likely on a dedicated hardware. With SaaS users do not need to pay for whole product and pays for functions it utilizes. Moreover, cost is based on pay-as-you-go (e.g. monthly usage). Hence, with SaaS, large upfront costs are greatly reduced. Moreover, organizations can discontinue usage anytime, hence encouraging them to deploy even seemingly costly solutions. Hence, SaaS will encourage and benefit enterprises to deploy security and performance monitoring solutions at low cost and high flexibility. Recent predication made by Gartner regarding SaaS supports the idea "By 2012, at least one-third of the business application software spending will be as service subscription instead of as product license". Some dominant players in their respective areas such as Google, Microsoft and Oracle are endorsing and promoting this model as well. Hence, the recent growth in SaaS, will benefit the wireless market immensely-enabling enterprises be it large, medium and small, to rollout wireless solutions effectively and productively.

In sum, technology benefits organizations immensely. However, lax or half-baked implementation without adequate research and measures may be counterproductive as well as dangerous. Any organization can afford to ignore these facts only at their own peril. The revolutionary wireless communication systems are on high growth path. It is new, promising, developing and expanding. WLAN's equip organizations with flexibility and mobility. To reap its benefits it is important, however, that implementation is secure and effective. With new SaaS model it is now plausible that organization will be able to deploy the wireless solutions and appropriate security measures productively and securely at reachable cost. Hence, if SaaS model which is changing the business equations in other fields, if applied to Wireless world, we will witness a huge shift in the way we operate today. These new technologies together- SaaS and Wireless will shape organization in such a manner that "working with mobility" brings a new dimension to organizations and their business altogether.