Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that all people have a set of five established needs ranked in order of desire fulfilment. Many have subsequently proposed that a sixth need comes before all others: Wi-Fi.
Whilst it is somewhat of a stretch to suggest that Wi-Fi is a basic human need, it is undoubtedly fast becoming a vital tool for productivity both inside and outside of the office. It allows people to access their email anywhere; whether it be on a train almost 60 metres underground, in bars and coffee shops across the capital, or simply in a meeting room at the office. And it’s becoming increasingly rapid with the latest 802.11ac offering theoretical speeds of over 1Gbps and far greater reliability and capacity for simultaneous clients than ever before. However, deploying a wireless network across a broad range of locations provides its own unique challenge – how do you manage it?
How to manage your wireless network
Ostensibly there are two choices when deciding how you want to manage your wireless network, but both require at least one physical device on-premise. This is called a Wireless Access Point (WAP), which provides connectivity to wireless devices such as laptops, tablets and phones using radio frequencies. In a scenario where the signal coverage of a single WAP is not sufficient then the requirement to deploy multiple standalone WAPs can not only become time-consuming, but also creates potential technical issues. Examples might include client roaming and co-channel interference, and it is at this point that the option to centrally manage these devices becomes an important consideration. An on-premise controller is a piece of hardware that the WAPs will either automatically discover or will require manual configuration to discover the controller initially. This will then allow the network administrator to easily deploy wireless networks, proactively monitor the status of the network and clients, and efficiently troubleshoot any issues that occur.
The primary benefit of on-premise management is that it provides the administrator with full control: the hardware is kept locally and the ability to manage the wireless networks is typically much more granular. This is ideal if you have a large single location business, but less so if you are limited on space. In addition, because of the hardware required, the initial outlay is usually higher, and expansion of the network can be limited due to licencing limitations on lower-end controllers which suffer from a lack of scalability. Redundancy is also another expense to consider when looking at on-premise management as a single piece of hardware that fails could potentially take days or weeks to replace and depending on the WAPs installed, this may result in a total outage.
Cloud-managed Wi-Fi is ideal for small to medium enterprises with multiple locations as it allows a single point of management for the network administrator and simple deployment. A WAP could be sent to a new remote office with simple instructions to connect it to a power supply and network port/router, and it would automatically pick up a configuration without any requirement for an engineer to attend site. There are no concerns about redundancy and scalability as no controller is kept on-premise, however, if your internet connection is patchy then the reliance upon constant connectivity to the cloud does have the potential for disruption. There are numerous excellent cloud managed Wi-Fi devices, however, our personal favourite for business use has to be Cisco Meraki.
In summary, the decision is very much a balance between control, cost, reliability and convenience. However, regardless of how you choose to manage your Wi-Fi don’t forget to take into account the effect your Christmas decorations may have!