The seamless edge

The seamless edge

The single most serious drawback to wireless networking, of course, is the potential for security breaches. A less serious but nevertheless annoying shortcoming in wireless solutions is the difficulty in roaming. Products from ReefEdge and Bluesocket address wireless security issues with VPN and secure authentication capabilities. But only one product, Mobility 3.5 from NetMotion Wireless, solves the networking problems associated with roaming, allowing end users to move from network to network without disrupting the applications that keep them productive. In the process, Mobility also delivers such nice features as media independence, limited remote management, and session persistence.

Mobility's primary functions are crucial to enterprises that want to move business-critical applications to existing wireless networks. In addition to providing a VPN optimised for wireless use, Mobility provides 128-bit encryption and secure authentication. Enterprise users also get roaming with vastly simplified management.

Although Mobility is excellent, it's not without its faults. It only works with Windows; it doesn't support Macintosh or Linux clients. In addition, it only supports IP, which could be a problem for users of older Novell networks. But for most shops, this product could dramatically improve the value of their wireless networks. In our testing, Mobility did everything that could be expected, earning our highest rating of Deploy.

Security is a huge issue for enterprises moving into wireless networking. The problem is that the standard security delivered with most 802.11b devices - the overwhelming choice for wireless LANs - has been compromised. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), as it is known, has a key delivery system that can be broken.

Without WEP, companies running wireless LANs need a dependable security solution, and Mobility 3.5 fills the gap. During testing, we found that Mobility's security was easy to implement, flexible, and extended to any media that a mobile device might be using. For example, we were able to provide secure communications between any Windows-based IP client and the home network, provided IP communications could be established.

This means that you not only get a secure wireless connection over wireless networks using 802.11b, but that the same secure connection extends to other types of wireless, including Bluetooth, CDPD, or cellular connections. You can use the Mobility client to create a VPN on a dialup network, and you can use it on a standard wired network to protect against snoopers with sniffers. Because Mobility supports persistent connections, you can even change media in mid-session. For example, if you decide to leave your office, you can pull the 802.11b card out of your laptop, insert a CDPD card, and your session continues.

Normally, roaming with a wireless LAN client is a problem. It can only work effectively if the network manager creates a separate network just for wireless devices - one that extends to every wireless access point on the network, regardless of location. That's a tall order.

Mobility eliminates the need for such specialised networks. Instead, the Mobility server lets clients roam across networks and handles the addressing itself.

This means that your network manager simply needs to plug access points into any convenient network. Afterwards, you can roam around your company's building or campus and you'll stay connected. And, because of the persistent connections, your session will remain intact while you move between buildings or through parts of your building without coverage.

For complete functionality, the Mobility server should be installed on a network that includes a Windows domain controller. While a domain controller is not required to make the Mobility server work, it is required if you plan to make network authentication mandatory.

In addition, user log-on is slightly easier with a Windows domain controller available on the network, because without one, users are required to manually type in the name of the Mobility server each time they log on. This log-on issue is scheduled to be fixed in Version 3.51, due for release this month.

The Mobility server also requires that your network support DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) to support roaming. Most DHCP servers should work. We used the Windows DHCP server in Windows 2000. The Mobility server supports roaming by creating a virtual DHCP assignment that it assigns to each client, in addition to the IP address that the hardware gets from the network itself.

For the test, we installed the Mobility server on an IBM X330 dual-processor server running Windows 2000 server with Service Pack 2. Installation of the server is a breeze: you simply insert the CD, choose what you want to install from the startup screen's menu, and agree to the licence agreement and the installation location on the server's hard disk. When installed, the Mobility server runs as a service. Client installation is similarly easy.

The Mobility system performed up to expectations. Client log-ons were notable only in that the log-on screen had a check box to allow you to bypass Mobility (you might want to do this when travelling). The VPN was established in seconds.

We tested roaming and connection persistence. It's seamless. As long as a user is on portions of the company network where Mobility is enabled, there's no evidence that you've moved between networks. For most of our wireless testing we used 802.11b equipment from Enterasys Networks, but we also tested Mobility's media flexibility with Bluetooth and over Sprint PCS. Everything worked.

Using the server is straightforward. The server's management screens aren't complex because they show only a limited amount of information. But the information, coupled with the information you'll have through your other management tools, is sufficient. More importantly, it's intuitive. You just point and click to find out more about whatever is displayed on the management screen.

Mobility 3.5 from NetMotion Wireless does exactly what the company says it will do, and it does it very well. We experienced no failures during testing, nor did we see evidence that the presence of the VPN had an adverse impact on performance.

For most companies, the clean, effective manner in which Mobility solves the problems of wireless security and roaming will be an answer to their prayers.

If you need to make sure your wireless connection is secure against the predations of competitors or hackers, and at the same time give end users flexibility and freedom of movement, then NetMotion's Mobility is a must-have.

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