How to sabotage your wireless network
Consumer-grade wireless gear and a consumer mind-set are bad for business networks
Who at your organization will know what to do when your neighbor installs his WLAN on the same frequency, or when a cordless phone, Bluetooth device, or security camera interferes with your network? Will your consumer-grade WAP vendor provide firmware upgrades to fix the latest security issues? Will your consumer-grade WAP need to be rebooted three times a day, because it crashes whenever more than five people try to use it at the same time? What happens when the wireless network grows to five or ten access points? How will they all be managed? How will you manage network accounts? Will they be integrated into your wired network?
These are the types of questions that any business needs to think about as they grow a wireless network. The consumer-grade solution is like eating a Pop-Tart for dinner. You get an immediate sugar high, but the lack of sustenance will eventually catch up with you. Weeks and months down the road, your company will be less fit because you have installed a solution that is lacking the management, security, usability, reliability, and scalability features found in business-grade equipment. But all is not lost. We have a couple of affordable solutions to recommend.
We recently tested two good WLAN systems that would allow a small business to move into an enterprise-grade solution without paying an enterprise price. The Meraki Enterprise Cloud Controller combines a full-featured WAP ($649) with a pay-as-you-go, Web-hosted management system (starting at $150 per WAP per year) that effectively outsources the most painful aspects of WLAN deployment and maintenance. The Netgear ProSafe WLAN system is more traditional, combining a WAP ($300) and an on-premises controller ($600) that have the features businesses need at a bargain-basement price.
Wireless LANs: Controller in the cloud
As with any cloud service, the idea behind the Meraki Enterprise Cloud Controller is to allow you to focus on your core business mission and treat your IT functionality as something that can be farmed out and paid for by subscription. Economies of scale are in full force: Meraki spreads the infrastructure costs across the entire customer base while delivering instant upgrades (features and security patches) to all users at once. Extremely polished, easy to use, and (from the customer standpoint) maintenance-free, the Meraki solution would allow a one-man IT team to handle all of the administration duties for multiple wireless LANs across multiple locations, with time to spare for other duties.
Meraki has a superb feature set, and with the controller residing in the cloud, it allows you to scale out your wireless network simply by plugging in additional access points -- no extra controllers and infrastructure costs required. WAPs can be deployed and configured within minutes, and network administrators can check a variety of metrics that include connectivity, gateway usage, latency, and channel utilization. The Google-inspired Web interface is a pleasure to use, and the number of sites and WAPs that can be managed is virtually limitless.
Meraki allows for several simultaneous wireless networks, including a guest network with Web port authentication. It has smart spectrum management capabilities that can resolve frequency conflicts on the fly, avoiding interference from other access points and devices operating in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It provides great visibility into the activity on the WLAN and allows you to throttle the bandwidth consumed by YouTube or Pandora or other noncritical traffic.