Painless, Bulletproof Wi-Fi Ideal For SMBs: I Find Cisco, Ruckus Deliver The Goods

By | January 18, 2016

ME_APs-300x300It has long been clear that the days of wired Ethernet networks were numbered as an endpoint connection and while most homes long ago ditched switches and CAT5 cables for an all-in-one Wi-Fi router, however building a business-class WLANs still takes planning and skill. WLAN configuration and management is still something of a black art that often leaves the IT generalists that generally operate SMB infrastructure overwhelmed.

As I detail in this column, that’s changing as exemplified by new products by Cisco and Ruckus that deliver on the promise of 10-minute provisioning and feature a beautifully designed Web management interfaces exposing a plethora of network data and configuration settings. I share my experiences with both products and explain how SMBs or organizations with remote locations lacking IT personnel have plenty of great choices for building a bulletproof WLAN without the setup pain and management frustration typical of traditional enterprise network gear.

The products have a similarly simple setup process requiring just a few steps:

  1. Power up the AP (using power over Ethernet for a single cable to a switch is preferred)
  2. Connect to a default and conspicuously-named SSID (“CiscoAirProvision” for the Aironet and “ConfigureMe-xxxxx” for the Ruckus)
  3. Connect to the management portal on a default IP address (typically the gateway address on the temporary wireless network you’ve just connected to)
  4. Run a setup wizard (which will require few if any changes, other than names and addresses, from the default configuration)
  5. Save the configuration and reboot the AP

The real magic of both systems comes when expanding the network by adding APs since these are automatically discovered by the master and seeded with its configuration. APs aggregate usage stats back to the master which populates consolidated reports on a management dashboard and automatically syncs configuration changes. Should the master ever drop offline, another AP assumes the role. Once setup, as the full column explains, the management interfaces are both easy to use and beautifully designed.

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Cisco and Ruckus aren’t the only vendors seizing the opportunity to make enterprise WLAN setup and administration easier. Aruba (now part of HP) has a line of Instant APs and Aerohive has its controllerless, Cooperative Control design (although Aerohive uses a cloud service, not a local master AP, for system management). This new generation of plug-and-play products means SMBs and organizations with remote locations that lack IT staff have no excuse for not deploying bulletproof, enterprise-class wireless.