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What Cloud-Managed WLAN Has to Offer Healthcare Networks

Cloud-managed WLAN can streamline the maintenance of healthcare wireless networks by replacing hardware, and controlling them from one place.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

Managing healthcare wireless networks can strain IT departments especially if those on the smaller side. And the growing popularity of mobile devices in the workplace and the constant connection needed Wi-Fi enabled medical devices makes network management even more complicated. Cloud services are typically used to simplify processes and combine traditional enterprise technology solutions. Cloud-managed WLAN services work the same way by streamlining wireless network management.

Healthcare cloud-managed WLAN

Lopez Research offers the following definition of cloud-managed WLAN:

Subscription-based WLAN virtual controllers and management software that is hosted in the public cloud. It provides a single point of management in the cloud for provisioning, troubleshooting, configuration and firmware management. These services offer remote monitoring & troubleshooting, central configuration, and firmware management, as well as compliance records and historical data. Cloud- based WLAN services offer the same rich monitoring and management software that is offered in premise-based solutions. A streamlined interface also reduces time spent managing the network.

The management system can be accessed through a web browser. IT can monitor all access points, see what devices are being used to access the network, and keep an eye on security events.

Similar to the more popular software-as-a-service model (SaaS), vendors are offering monthly subscription services where IT can manage the wireless network without having to deploy maintenance technology on-site.

Even with the monthly fee, cloud-managed WLAN can save organizations money. There’s no upfront cost for deployment such as with traditional on-premise solutions and hardware (e.g., management server appliances, controllers) doesn’t need to be purchased. Organizations are not charged additional fees for firmware updates.

Less IT staff is needed to maintain the network, saving on hiring new employees. Current IT staff can be better distributed throughout an organization in areas where more maintenance and expertise is lacking. Institutions with large campuses or multiple locations can manage their networks from one location and won’t require additional IT staff to monitor or physically expand the existing network.

Cloud-managed WLANs are also much easier to scale as an organization grows. Additional controllers can be added or taken away as needed. If an organization adopts more cloud technology in the future for storage or applications, they can be easily added and managed through the cloud as well.

Medical facilities can particularly benefit from cloud-managed wireless because of guest network access. In a survey conducted by Extreme Networks, over 75 percent of hospitals polled said that they are using wireless mostly for guest access. The same survey stated that 85 percent of the organizations offered free wireless access to patients and visitors.

If over half of an organization's bandwidth is being used by guests, then the guest network needs just as much management as the private network. With on-premise management solutions, this can be difficult because there may be two separately configured management appliances. Cloud-managed WLAN can combine those appliances so IT can manage both networks from the same place.

The only real drawbacks of cloud-managed WLAN are the public cloud and outages. As with other  cloud technology, storing and accessing protected health information in the public cloud raise concerns. While there are security measures in place to prevent the information from being accessed by unauthorized users, the lack of control IT has over the environment can be unsettling to some organizations.

Network outages are also a concern of any cloud service model. IT will still be able to view the network if a wireless outage happens, but they may not be able to see details of the outage unless they are on a wired connection.

Cloud-managed wireless can make a significant impact on healthcare organizations of any size. It can also assist with network planning and expansion as well as save organizations money and IT staff time.

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