By Roger Hockaday, director of marketing, Aruba EMEA

Employees — from senior executives to new hires — are excited by the productivity and connectedness that comes from using iPads and smartphones in their personal lives, and they want to transfer those benefits into their business using the same devices and the same social applications. No longer are employees prepared to accept that the only methods of connecting with customers and other employees are through a corporate desk phone or corporate laptop running corporate applications, from the corporate office.

Regardless of whether these mobile devices were intended for corporate use, they are making their way onto company networks by the millions and are rapidly becoming an integral part of how business gets done across all types of organisation.

These highly mobile tablets and smartphones are accelerating the trend that laptops started; lives no longer revolve around an office or cubicle. 90 percent of users now work outside of a company’s headquarters office — increasingly in virtual office environments whether it is at home, at a business partner’s site or in coffee shops. Instead of working on a single desktop client, employees have multiple personal computers and mobile devices, some of which are owned by users themselves rather than the organisation for which they work.

These trends of mobility and democratisation of IT are forcing IT to rethink long held beliefs about security and network architecture.

The move to tablets and smartphones is causing an upsurge in multimedia traffic; users inspired by the rich, interactive media experience they get from Facebook and YouTube, are consuming greater amounts of audio and video traffic on the company network. They are increasingly using UC applications such as Microsoft’s Lync, Skype and Facetime. They access video content more often, and increasingly take advantage of collaborative applications to reduce travel budgets and be more efficient. The most effective businesses support this by employing collaborative and social applications that offer increased context awareness — smartphone and tablet apps that let users chat with an expert on another continent, use virtual whiteboard sessions with remote colleagues and videoconference.

But in this new world applications no longer reside on users’ desktops — they run in the cloud from data centres hundreds or even thousands of miles away . Consequently users expect, and need, to access all their applications wherever they are working, as if they were in the corporate HQ. While this change has significantly reduced the resources required to support end-user desktops and local servers, it has increased the importance of managing access, QoS and security across the network.

The challenge for IT departments is thus twofold: support every user wherever and however they may want to work, and do so with the quality and security as if they were sitting at a desk in the corporate HQ. This is rarely a trivial task since the current network’s legacy design dates back to the client server era when employees sat at desks in the corporate office connecting to applications hosted on server in the basement. Even when organisations have recently adopted wireless networks and freed up ‘the edge’, overall IT will struggle to support the explosion in mobile devices and mobility among the workforce.

In addressing this challenge, IT must look at their legacy infrastructure and be critical of:

• Siloed networks that duplicate functions and infrastructure at the access layer; separate wired networks, wireless networks, remote office networks, and VPN networks.

• Fragmented services at the edge of the network where applications meet users and devices; employees at home who connect by VPN, but in a meeting room by wireless LAN, and at a desk by a wire, each with different access policies, control points, quality of service and security policies.

• Multiple bolt-on technologies that fail to address the unique needs of user mobility — with different management systems, different security systems, different physical networks,

All of these complicate management and inflate operational costs.

The answer does not lie in simply deploying a wireless network and assuming the mobility issue is fixed. Though a properly designed wireless network will go a long way to giving office-based users mobility, a wireless deployment should really be considered as part of an upgrade to an integrated access architecture, unifying network, security and management services. Such architectures can transform IT services by unifying disparate access networks into one seamless access solution for employees wherever they may work or roam. A unified access architecture reduces the operational burden created by mobile users, but also eliminates a significant portion of the legacy network, resulting in fewer ports and less equipment to support the same user community.

As long as companies remain entangled in siloed legacy access infrastructures from vendors whose network solutions are still architected around client-server connections, IT will be forced resort to increasingly complex and expensive bolt-on technologies that will only make everyone’s life more complex.