Be wise and prepare for wireless, experts say

Be wise and prepare for wireless, experts say

Agencies will face complex hybrid networks, new security issues and expanded remote-access demands

BY WILLIAM JACKSON | GCN STAFF

As if systems administrators didn't have enough on their plates, another radical change is coming.

'The wireless maelstrom will destroy organizations that do not adapt,' said Jack Gold, vice president of Meta Group Inc., an information technology consulting firm in Stamford, Conn., speaking at the recent Summit on Wireless Computing in Orlando, Fla.

Gold and David Cearley, Meta Group senior vice president and co-director of research, described a complex hybrid of wired and wireless broadband infrastructures, protocols and operating systems that will deliver personalized, real-time information in multiple formats.

Agencies have a little breathing space before they must deliver online services wirelessly to personal digital assistants and Web-enabled phones. User demand will not pick up until 2003 or 2004, Cearley said.

Power shift

The stakeholders at the conference called the shift to wireless computing the most significant development in networking since the Internet itself. According to widely quoted analysts' estimates, the number of mobile devices connected to the Internet will outstrip PCs by 2003.

Vendors, systems integrators and software developers are responding to the forecast with services and tools to open up the huge stores of Internet data to handheld devices.

Driving this growth is the convergence of thin-client architectures and radio frequency bandwidth. But no standard interface or form factor has emerged for data delivery.

Cearley predicted the typical user would have three or four mobile devices, such as a notebook computer, a cell phone and a PDA. Application and service providers will have to tailor interfaces and services for each type of device and each individual's needs.

'Right now, the management of PC networks is pretty well understood and mature,' Cearley said, although 'not everyone is doing it or doing it well.'

But when myriad wireless devices get thrown into the networking mix, they will bring 'a whole new level of complexity,' he said.

Finding people to manage existing networks is difficult now, and expertise in managing more-complex hybrid networks will be even rarer.
Security problems pose another hurdle in unwiring the world.

'Security sucks,' Gold said. Existing security models are terrible for the Palm OS and Microsoft Windows CE operating systems and for the Wireless Access Protocol, he said.

Nonetheless, network managers cannot ignore wireless computing. 'The users aren't waiting,' Cearley said. 'They're doing it.'

Mobile devices are already connecting with networks to exchange important and sensitive information. Managers do what they can to rein in mobile devices on their networks by setting use and security policies and by controlling the distribution of software.

Agencies are taking their first steps toward online services'as opposed to static information'on the wired Web.

J. Mark Conde, a service line manager for integrator Stonebridge Technologies Inc. of Dallas, said that a tech-savvy administration at any level of government'federal, state or local'could put pressure on agencies to provide services for unwired and wired devices, he said.

Cearley had some advice for agencies faced with deploying pervasive, wireless networks. Internally, 'they need to focus on field workers who are involved in information-intensive activities' and who have specific information needs, he said.

At the other end of the personnel spectrum, high-level executives who want to use their handhelds, notebook computers or cell phones for work purposes also need to be accommodated. 'What managers should not do is try to develop a generic solution for everybody in the agency,' Cearley said.

Providing wireless services to citizens is not yet high on the government horizon. But agency planners should be thinking ahead five to seven years, he said.

For applications to be easily ported to a wireless infrastructure, Cearley said, planners must develop ways to put data into components and segregate the interface logic from the content.

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