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When Is a WLAN Truly Controller-Less?

Written by Michael McNamee Michael McNamee | July 5, 2013

The WLAN marketplace has been heating up the past 12 months due to several new product offerings, product enhancements and changes in ownership. As a result we have been seeing and hearing of lots of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) from vendors and resellers about products in the marketplace.

wireless network system

In an effort to clear up the FUD and confusion that exists I wanted to point out the difference in one product type that is out there which has lots of misinformation being thrown about. I want to inform our readers of what is truly considered a controller-less architecture and what some vendors are claiming is their version of a controller-less product. My intent is to give you the information straight and let you decide what you would like to pay for in the end.

A truly controller-less solution should provide the following;

  • Configuration of the WLAN from a management interface operating on one of the access points (APs).
  • Administration of the WLAN from a management interface operating on one of the access points.
  • Troubleshooting of the WLAN from a management interface operating on one of the access points.

A true controller-less WLAN solution keeps the data plane, control plane and management plane on the access points on the WLAN. This is important because it eliminates the need to purchase a server to host the required “manager” software or to purchase licenses to gain access to the required “cloud manager” or “cloud controller”. It also eliminates the single point of failure in these types of so called “controller-less” solutions. In the instance of having a “manager” requirement if the “manager” goes down there is a considerable loss in functionality of the WLAN until it is restored. In the instance of a “cloud-controller” required implementation if the site or the WAN goes down again considerable loss in functionality of the WLAN is lost.

True controller-less function is possible today because the manufacturer has virtualized the controller software and installed it on the wireless network access points. APs today have as much processing power and resourcesas the first WLAN appliance controllers we sold 8 years ago which allows for the controller software now to run on an access point. You can think of APs today as mini computers (1 GHz CPU, 256MB RAM and 64MB of flash).

One of the byproducts of virtualizing the controller software onto the wireless network access points is built in redundancy. If the AP that is functioning as the “virtual controller” for the WLAN fails another AP in the group takes over and assumes this role. This is a great feature to make sure your WLAN is operational 100% of the time without spending extra for hardware and licenses.

A “controller-less” solution disguising their controller as a manager requires the following;

  • Licenses per AP. (Remember they claim that licenses are for controllers!)
  • A VM server installation or an appliance to host the “controller-less” software.
  • The software is required to configure and manage even the first AP in the WLAN.

A “controller-less” solution disguising their controller as a cloud controller requires the following;

  • Licenses per AP. (Again, remember that licenses were supposed to only be for physical controllers!)
  • A cloud server to configure and manage your Wireless LAN.

SecurEdge Networks has been designing, installing and supporting wireless networks systems since 2006. We have evaluated dozens of wireless products for our customers and recommend only the best ones that fit their requirements. We are not a manufacturer and as a result are not bound to one platform. However, we have done our homework and have selected the products we feel are best suited to our customer’s needs. Let us help you cut through the FUD and show you the products that are the best fit for your situation. Contact us here if you would like to connect with us.

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