Trickle Down Technology

Tuesday Jun 8th 2004 by Eric Griffith
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Big Business tech vendors and SMBs look to each other for revenue and affordable solutions.

As the IT budgets at many large enterprises remain in lock-down mode, software and hardware vendors have been forced to innovate and search out new markets. And you benefit from that resourcefulness. From CRM to Wi-Fi, vendors that typically develop products for big business are turning to and finding an increasingly receptive customer base in SMBs.

A recent study of SMB spending by AMI-Partners and a product announcement from InterLink Networks typify how enterprise-level technologies are working their way into small businesses.

SMB Spending Patterns
According to a report from AMI-Partners, small and medium-sized businesses favor CRM and sales force automation (SFA) software.

The firm's study of the 2003 U.S. Enterprise Software Market found that small and medium sized businesses spent nearly $1 billion overall on enterprise software in 2003 out of a total $14.6 billion spend for the entire U.S business market. In addition, CRM/SFA accounted for about 54 percent of the sales in 2003, up from 37 percent in 2002.

The AMI Partners study surveyed more than 1,450 small-medium-and-large-business IT decision makers across the country. Most of the software discussed included CRM, SFA, ERP and supply chain management (SCM) packages.

In the U.S. market, call center, forecasting and account knowledge packages were the top three features deployed across enterprises. AMI Partners also sees the SMB market heading toward on-demand and pay-as-you-go packages.

The survey indicates that the SMB enterprise software growth rate will increase by a 14.3 percent compound annual growth rate this year. The results also suggest SMBs have been underserved thus far, with less than 10 percent of small businesses and 25 percent of medium sized businesses deploying CRM/SFA in their enterprise.

In addition, they noted other surveys that indicated the CRM/SFA/ERP /SCM sectors would be a strategic focus in the next 12 months for over 407,000 SMB's in the U.S.

Enterprise Security For SMBs
RADIUS server maker Interlink Networks — a company that usually tackles enterprise-wide wireless and even carrier-level authentication — has a new product that promises the same level of security for SMBs.

The company says its new LucidLink Wireless Security is as easy to setup as a consumer product and will let even SMBs without any IT staff setup almost-instant 802.1X authentication for their wireless users. The program "plugs a hole we've seen for SMBs," according to Mike Klein, president and chief executive officer of Interlink.

"The problem for small and medium businesses is that they have no IT or they have a very general IT person who is extremely time-limited," says Klein. "The real challenge is: how do I set up and secure things without being an expert in Wi-Fi or security?"

The trick: the software actually includes the RADIUS server — it doesn't reside on a separate piece of hardware, it runs right on the system used by the SMB's de facto IT person. (The downside: no turning off that PC.)

"When we're talking to small business owners about RADIUS, their eyes glaze over. They just want something simple. We've deleted the references to RADIUS [with this product], but that's what it is," says Klein. LucidLink will use the Extensible Authentication Protocol with Transport Layer Security (EAP -TLS). For businesses with over 250 wireless users and need for other EAP-types, the company suggests moving up to its full RADIUS solutions.

How it Works
Here's how LucidLink operates: It includes a supplicant/client for each PC that lets users connect to the wireless network of their choice. At the same time, the user name pops up on the network administrator's Windows 2000 or XP-based system — the instant Lucid Server. Through this interface, the admin authorizes the user for the network, okays a guest, limits users to a specific amount of time, etc. Once given the okay, the client can connect to the wireless LAN as needed.

The Lucid RADIUS Server Administration Module can even be used to configure some access points (APs) that are 802.1X/WPA-compatible. Right now, that's limited to two D-Link APs and one from Linksys. Scripts are written into LucidLink for the control, they don't make any firmware changes to the hardware.

Keeping it Simple
"We've taken the first few steps of configuring an AP, and simplified them by as much as 70 percent — without even looking at security," says Wayne Burkan, vice president of marketing at Interlink. He added that LucidLink is not limited to working with the three APs that it can automatically manage — it will also work with any AP that supports 802.1X. The company has an online compatibility matrix that shows combinations of APs and wireless NICs that work with LucidLink. The software is limited to clients with Windows XP.

Interlink says even a non-IT person could give the okay for temporary access to a guest in the office — perfect for the receptionist, for example, who gets all the complaints.

"It's like programming a garage door opener," says Klein. "Press the button on the old remote and the new remote; they exchange information. Push the button on the client, another on the server to accept, and all the security is setup." There's no need for manually entering any security keys to get the client up and running.

Such instant security is becoming a popular concept for home networks. Buffalo Technology's AirStation One-Touch Secure System (AOSS), currently found only in Buffalo's own products, allows for instant security synchronization between an AP and a client by pushing buttons on the hardware. Chipmaker Broadcom has announced software called Secure EZ Setup that it hopes its OEM customers will start using; it synchs security settings between the client and the WLAN infrastructure products through software.

SMB networks have seen new security solutions also using RADIUS, but in a form where the "server" is actually a hosted service you connect to over the Internet. Wireless Security Corp. (WSC) offers one, which Linksys licenses for use on at least one product. Full Mesh Networks provides a similar service.

LucidLink keeps this 802.1X/RADIUS solution in-house, which might also keep the cost down overtime. The software is available starting June 25, with a 10-user package going for $449. The more users added, the lower the price, down to $36 per user.

Adapted from internetnews.com. and wi-fiplanet.com.

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