802.11i to Resolve Security Issues?
The Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is often seen as a transitional step to 802.11i, the IEEE's emerging wireless encryption standard. Wi-Fi, though, has no initiative under way for management tool interoperability, according to Brian Grimm, spokesperson for that organization. Instead, wireless vendors have been working on these interoperability issues through another IEEE effort known as 802.11f.
"802.11f, though, is not a proposed specification. Instead, it's only being proposed as a 'recommended practice,' meaning that vendor compliance is completely voluntary," Grimm continues. Still an unapproved draft, 802.11f targets roaming and AP registration issues.
The IEEE's emerging 802.11i draft, on the other hand, will be an actual specification. By and large, vendors are promising to support 802.11i as soon as the IEEE spec gets finalized.
However, industry reports are starting to surface that 802.11i does not offer backward compatibility with existing 802.11b wireless cards. Although 802.11b cards will soon be supplanted by dual-band 802.11a/802.11b cards anyway, there are certainly a large number of 11b cards already installed and running.
What's a Network Manager to Do?
What's a network manager to do? One common approach to interoperability problems is to wait for industry standardization. When it comes to WLAN management, though, that clearly won't work for a lot of organizations. Standardization around all of these issues will take too long -- either through industry groups or on a de facto basis -- if it ever happens at all.
One possible solution is to decide to stick with a single wireless vendor now and into the foreseeable future. Alternatively, you can keep your eyes open for management products that support multiple wireless LAN architectures -- possibly in conjunction with wired networks, too.