Businesses across the Middle East are upgrading to wireless networks en masse, but the challenge facing channel players is how to make money from securing that infrastructure. Channel Middle East surveys some of the leading networking vendors to ask what advice and guidance they can offer to resellers around the region.
To what extent are businesses in the Middle East deploying wireless networks and what are the major challenges posed in the security of these networks?
We’ve seen partners that — regardless of all the benefits and advancements that vendors have made — still haven’t evolved their practices so they’re not doing their customers justice.
CS:If you look at the compound annual growth rate of wireless networking, it's the highest of all of the technologies in our industry by far. It's growing incredibly rapidly; ahead of any other technology we deal with. But when you apply that to the Middle East and Africa, I don't see the same level of adoption here. You'll see the more sophisticated companies adopting wireless technologies, but it's in pockets. I believe we are really at the inception of the adoption of wireless technology here in the Middle East and Africa.
FZ:The total size of the worldwide networking market is US$1.2 billion, and of that about US$95m to US$110m comes from the Middle East. Wireless networks represent around 10% to 12% of that figure, primarily fuelled by businesses in the education sector, hospitality sector and large enterprises. Currently, the market is growing at a rate of 150% and it is expected to reach US$45m by the end of 2008. However, security is not something that is really taken seriously at the moment, and approximately 80% of businesses in the region neglect their data security needs.
KL:The deployment of wireless in the Middle East is increasing dramatically, but the issue is that there is a lot of misconception surrounding the importance of security. To begin with, people who deploy wireless have in the back of their mind the idea that wireless is not secure. But then when we come to talk to them it is not a major issue. I can easily say that 70% to 80% of IT managers don't really understand the threats that come from security, if not even more. With many hotels in the region, the first time we approach them they say they want wireless and they say security is nice so they want it. But it's not one of their main requirements, and this is one of the biggest challenges we face right now.
DW:The scene has changed quite dramatically over the last few years. A couple of years ago people were just playing around with wireless and they were not sure how good it was or how secure it was, so they were just trying it in certain areas. Now we're seeing fully-fledged implementations covering a whole enterprise. The main issue with security is people using their networks and exploiting their resources. This is always the fear factor once the implementation has been done.
What role does the channel have to play in securing wireless networks?
MA:Aside from the point that the channel has to be educated and well aware of the implementation of security, they need to make sure that technology is just one piece of the equation. There are other services they can offer like policies and assessment. This is not just equipment that you can go and deploy; you also need to look at certain other specifications. They need to have a broader view that although the technology is an important part, there are other factors that must be considered to put a solution together.
FZ:The Middle East channel needs to visit Europe to see how it's done. They stand to gain a lot of good advice because Europe is secured. They also need to listen to the needs of customer and customise solutions according to their needs, and they should try and build an ongoing relationship with the customer. This means they should operate with ethics and consider what the customer really needs. If he doesn't really need a particular solution, don't try to sell it to him.
MB:One important thing for the channel to do is the radio frequency survey. Before you start applying intrusion detection and encryption of data, it's very important to study the RF and put the corresponding access point where it gives the coverage of the needed area. This in itself would reduce the security threat, and then you can talk about putting the detection and encryption of data. Experience is very important. Every premises has a different nature in terms of obstacles in terms of wireless coverage.
CS:The reseller has a duty to ensure that they're up to speed on the latest and greatest solutions. We've seen partners that - regardless of all the benefits and advancements that vendors have made - still haven't evolved their practices so they're not doing their customers justice. The number one thing is to get up to speed on the features, products and solutions that allow you to mitigate some very important risks.
What skills do resellers need to effectively sell security for wireless networks?
MB:They need to have an understanding of security in the wired arena and how they can authorise and encrypt the data because currently we see wireless as an extension of wired networks. We need wireless to cover places that we cannot reach by wire. And what applies in terms of security for wire, forms the foundation of what to apply for wireless.
DW:They would need to know how to do proper site surveys for coverage. Another aspect is that they would need to know all the implementations around. They don't have to be from a single vendor, they can be two or three solutions from multiple vendors to give the end-users the best security out there.
CS:You have to really know your 802.11 alphabet because if you're designing it from scratch you have the opportunity to design it in a secure manner. It's a very industry and standards-rich technology. Specifically, I would focus on authentication mechanisms, encryption mechanisms such as 802.11i, 802.11e, quality of service, radius and sensible authentication protocol. Those are some of the technical things that govern how you deploy and design. Another thing is understanding the new paradigm in wireless networking; adopting centralised thin architectures.
MA:Our objective is to make sure our resources at the reseller stay trained and aware of the developments. We constantly develop a product, introduce features and capabilities and we want them to be up to date and give them hands-on experience. We also encourage them to have a proof of concept labs facility so they need to have their own research and development in this area.
What advice would you give to resellers addressing the security needs of businesses with wireless networks?
KL:Resellers need to present a ‘best of all breed' solution. I think a lot of the channel follows an end-to-end breed scenario because it's a low hanging fruit. They end up competing channel versus channel. The channel can be more confident and aggressive by taking a ‘best of all breed' scenario to the customer. Although it can be a disadvantage from a discount point of view because it's not an end-to-end one-company solution, it can present the solution as best-of-all-breed and convince the end-user to rely on it as the system integrator - the single point of contact if anything goes wrong, rather than the hardware manufacturer. The channel also needs to regain control of the accounts. The manufacturer shouldn't be in control of accounts, that's the role of the channel.
DW:They need to have in-house expertise. They can't just be a box mover; they need to be a box utiliser. Try not to be too tied to a single vendor. Our solution is industry leading for certain applications, like voice-over WiFi. If you wanted to run voice handsets throughout our organisations then partnering with Foundry would provide a great solution, but that's not to say it's the perfect solution for everything. So I think they should have knowledge of a number of different solutions to be able to fit them together.
MA:They need to increase the value chain that they bring. It's not about product and whether they can sell it for cheaper, it's about the services that they can bring. Policies, risk assessments, security certifications - this is what the channel partners need to be offering.
How can resellers enhance the profit margins they make from providing wireless security solutions?
MB:Whenever they show a wireless solution to the customer they can do a threat test mechanism. When they install a certain wireless system they can demonstrate tools to try and hack into the system to show the customer it really has a secure network that you can depend on for your business.
Unfortunately, the channel is backing off and letting the hardware manufacturer eat their lunch, take control of the customer base, and they just fulfill pieces. This isn’t healthy for the channel.
FZ:They should practice cracking into their own network to assess the vulnerability and decide on what the best solutions are, which hardware to use and which software to deploy. They should create a lab and explore the basic standards and work on enhancing their skills.
KL:The channel needs to aim higher, to go to the CxO level and demonstrate their value add to the business of the customer, to support the customer's strategy. No manufacturer has a value add that addresses a business company's strategy individually. If you're a bank that wants to grow the business very quickly and needs to educate employees, that requires video on demand, network, wireless, voice and servers - the only company that can do that is the channel; they can integrate all of these pieces together. Unfortunately, the channel is backing off and letting the hardware manufacturer eat their lunch, take control of the customer base, and they just fulfill pieces. I don't think this is healthy for the channel, but I'm starting to see channel players awaken to the fact that they have to distinguish themselves as system integrators providing best of all breed solutions.
DW:It's an interesting conundrum on wireless networks because compared to wired networks, wireless actually costs significantly less. So for a big deployment of access rates, the cost can be quite small versus a wired network, which could be considerably more expensive because of the hardware. Being an expert and providing that specialist knowledge and consultancy along with implementation is always a higher margin deliverable - it's a people deliverable versus a product deliverable. My advice would be to focus on having specialists that understand a number of solutions and can put them together.
Which geographic markets are showing the most appetite for wireless networks and their security?
MB:Everyone that wants to expand their current network tends to want converged solutions. Voice over wireless LAN is what is really demanded the most today and most of the Middle East markets ask for converged solutions. In the GCC, the country which most exhibits this is the UAE, followed by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
MA:I would say we've seen it almost everywhere, there's not a particular one. Definitely the markets where there are bigger populations get more exposure because of the number of users on a network. If you look at Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Pakistan - they are showing more demand because of their higher populations. Dubai has had to adapt to merge with real business, where you see lots of mobile users, international businessmen visiting and people on holiday. With the new cities and structures they're building, wireless is an important part of that. But in general, especially with universities adopting wireless, the whole region is showing demand.
FZ:Saudi Arabia is showing the most demand for wireless networks because you cannot run fibre across the Kingdom, it's too big. If you have a branch office in Riyadh, one in Jeddah and one in Khobar, you can't have a fibre link connecting them all, so in Saudi you have to deploy wireless. Dubai is also showing a lot of demand by force. With the people coming in from Europe and western markets, they are bringing with them the expectations and standards in their own countries and wireless is deployed more extensively.
What trends do you envisage happening over the next 12 months in terms of the security of wireless networks?
MB:The coming trend in the next 12 months is that the dependency on this network is increasing more and more and I've seen some infrastructures which are completely built up on wireless, and forgetting about the passive infrastructure that is wired. Resellers need to keep themselves up to date with the fast changes and even set up a small demo lab to show and present solutions to the customer.
FZ:I think we will see prices reduce and the technology will become more affordable for businesses in the region, who will be more willing to invest in security. Unified access control (UAC) will become the new standard and Trapeze is a partner of Juniper in this space. The channel needs to understand UAC, pitch it and sell it to end-users.
KL:The trends for the security of wireless is to deploy a layer of security on top of the existing wireless system to complement what you have. You need to deploy a radar for WiFi; the fact that you have access points, which are like airplanes, means you need a radar. The radar should be deployed in all enterprises, even those that don't have wireless because the signal can still come to you.
CS:I think identity management is an area where we will see some key developments over the next 12 months. The ubiquity of the networks will see private wireless networks move into the public domain, and here's where identity management will really become crucial. As networks become more intelligent, the user will be identified by a single sign on, and will be able to understand who the user is and where the user is. So if an outsider tries to get into a specific network using someone else's correct username and password, the network will be intelligent enough to realise that this is not the correct user, and prohibit them from accessing the system. Over time, the channel will need to become aware of this technology and how to deploy it.For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.