Providing what’s best for that guest

IT managers may now have an easier way to offer guests a little or a lot of wireless access on their corporate networks.

Introduced late last year, 3Com’s Guest Access Manager is an application that lets network managers offer customized full or limited access to network communication systems and classifies guests coming into a company or hotel into pre-defined user categories such as employee, consultant, special guest or standard guest instead of authenticating every user or leaving a network open.

For example, guests given “employee” rights would have the same access to the network as company staff. Those given “consultant” access would have limited rights with access only to specific systems. If classified as a “special guest,” like hotel reward card members, a user would have WiFi access throughout the hotel. “Standard guests” would only receive base-level network connectivity and are restricted to logging on from a specific location such as their hotel room.

Initial set-up is done by pre-defining user groups. Within a hotel setting, for example, a front desk staff person or receptionist can assign guests to a particular access group through a special user ID and password.

“Guests will have unique credentials so every time they come in you don’t always have to go back and re-configure [the wireless network],” said Howard Rubin, 3Com’s product marketing manager for wireless.

As well, Rubin added, classifying users makes the network more secure.

“Everybody who is on the network can now be tracked and you can restrict where they may (have access to the network),” he said.

Guest Access Manager is a Java-based application that manages 3Com’s wireless switches and controllers. Guest Access Manager lets managers authorize who uses the network at a particular location through pre-defined policies.

“Assuming that the entire wireless mobility system (access points) is locked down and there are no stand-alone access points), then guest wireless users are at the mercy of their assigned profiles,” Rubin said.

He added that Guest Access Manager is designed as a tool for enterprises, as well as health care or the hospitality industries that have wireless users inside a building sharing files and applications.

It was requests for an easier solution from enterprise customers that prompted 3Com to develop Guest Access Manager, according to Rubin. “Enterprises were interested in security and didn’t want to do an open network but wanted a simple way to authenticate users and allow an open network that segregated users to make sure they go where they are supposed to.”

Guest Access Manager is designed to be simple to use. Receptionists or hotel reception staff – those with limited or no technical knowledge – can use the tool to set guests up with wireless access on the fly, he said.

Greg Graham, a research analyst with Toronto-based NBI/ Michael Sone Associates said giving the task to business administration staff lets it become part of their routine business functions rather than always pulling IT staff away from other projects to secure guest access.

As well, he added, that the ease of the 3Com application is a compelling benefit. “(Other vendors) have products that could be used to perform similar functions [to Guest Access] but these are not streamlined for easy use and packaged for non-IT people to use,” said Graham.

Guest Access Manager is available now and comes free with 3Com wireless hardware.

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