Cloud WLANs: Weighing Pros And Cons - InformationWeek

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7/17/2014
12:00 AM
Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Cloud WLANs: Weighing Pros And Cons

Cloud-managed wireless networks offer significant benefits, but IT must consider cloud downsides to make an informed choice.

Cloud-managed WLANs  are a hot topic in wireless networking. They spare their customers the cost and pain of on-site controllers and pricey network management systems. Many offerings are as feature-rich as their legacy counterparts, and some vendors are admirably responsive to customers.

As someone who designs and runs both premises- and cloud-managed wireless networks, I think the value of the cloud option is indisputable.

However, I understand why some IT pros are wary of the cloud model. For one, cloud incidents get major press coverage, whether it’s an outage at Amazon or a security problem at Dropbox. These kinds of incidents make potential customers uneasy.

For another, cloud adoption requires a leap of faith because operations move from your environment to someone else’s, in faraway places that you’ll never visit. Your success depends, in part, on people you’ll never meet keeping their own data centers healthy and secure. That can be tough.

When I pitched my first Meraki site to my managers after years of our being a traditional Wi-Fi environment, I remember thinking “Please don’t let this come back to bite me.” And so far, so good.

Cloud WLAN adoption has operational impacts too. Basics such as logging and monitoring are done in different ways, and when you fork your network and security operations into cloud and non-cloud, integrating both halves can be tricky.

Another concern is that many of the cloud players are smaller companies that don’t have the track record of incumbents. When you leave the safe harbor of long-established networking companies, you run the risk of betting on the wrong horse in a market that is bound to shake itself out. Some organizations just can’t tolerate that risk.

Potential adopters also have to consider 802.11-specific issues. From rogue detection to RF management to configuration granularity, cloud Wi-Fi may not give the depth you need (or think you need) compared with on-premises hardware running dozens of cores under the hood.

But as you weigh those downsides, it’s also important to balance out the benefits. For instance, cloud Wi-Fi solutions can provide innovative options for analytics, guest access, and other advanced features by checking a radio button as opposed to adding more appliances to the local rack. There’s a lot to compare here.

If you’re contemplating cloud-managed Wi-Fi, I invite you to join me at Interop New York, where I’ll cover in detail the pros and cons of cloud-enabled wireless networksi.

Lee is a Wireless Network Architect for a large private university. He has also tought classes on networking, wireless network administration, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronic Warfare systems technician ... View Full Bio
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