Updated: Jan 20, 2020
Since the introduction of managed WAP or cloud-managed WLANs, the typical profile of an organization that has adopted this type of infrastructure has been a small company with multiple remote offices. Those in the hospitality industry and retailers have long been perfect candidates for these cloud-based hotspots.
The idea is that cloud-managed wireless platforms allow organizations to extend seamless Wi-Fi capabilities to those places that lack the resources for traditional network implementation. That could be retailers, coffee shops, school districts, or hotel chains that need to deliver reliable wireless guest access that doesn’t have the luxury of leveraging an on-site IT staff.
2 types of cloud managed wireless
In general, there have been two types of cloud-managed wireless options: the first is where the wireless controller and network management software are in the cloud; the second puts only the management functions in the cloud. With a cloud-based management platform, admins can log into a vendor’s web-based dashboard from anywhere with an internet connection, for example, to view, manage and configure local wireless networks.
With the right cloud-managed Wi-Fi solutions, these smaller scale organizations have benefited from fast and simple deployments and secure, reliable and high-performance network guest access.
Concerns for wireless
However, concerns for cloud-managed Wi-Fi deployments start to become apparent when the scope of the managed WAP application is widened. The problem is, most providers offer extremely simplified cloud-managed Wi-Fi access. Or they offer Wi-Fi plus some features, which leaves significant gaps around security. With little to no switch or security appliance options, larger enterprises have been skeptical of the potential pitfalls of adopting managed WAP. In addition to a lack of built-in security features, there are other top concerns. An organization that requires enterprise-grade Wi-Fi should consider these points carefully:
Lost investment in current legacy systems- Even if an organization did want to migrate WLAN to the cloud, it’s currently not an option. Or at least, not a cost-effective option. Most enterprises that have already established sophisticated networks are hesitant to switch to cloud-managed WLANs simply because migrating large environments can be extremely costly. Enterprises relying on WLAN would have to essentially cut their losses and make new investments in VWLAN technology. An enterprise IT department would be letting go of its controller-based WLANs and local management servers for new cloud management platforms, which was a huge investment in the first place.
Difficult to address complex needs- Another concern for enterprises is that many of these cloud-management applications are not currently on par with traditional on-premises network management platforms. Cloud-managed Wi-Fi targets a market that is feeling a need for wireless but lacks the resources to do a traditional implementation everywhere.
No hybrid model- Even if IT departments offload the hosting of management servers and cloud platform management, the management of endpoints and adding access points, is still in the hands of the internal IT staff. The complexity of the hybrid model limits the application of the cloud-managed WLAN architecture to a specific subset of organizations. Most network administrators that are looking for a hybrid option, still have to choose between a standalone access point or WLAN switch.
In most cases, on-premises controllers offer far more flexibility when it comes to the design and deployment of the WLAN. This includes support for legacy Wi-Fi applications and more control to manage complex network designs and enterprise network environments. While cloud-managed WLAN vendors are introducing more robust security and management options, it’s important to evaluate the state of your network (and plans for the future) and determine which factors are most critical to your organization.