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The cloud is having an impact on everything: how your users are accessing applications, where your data lives, and now, even on the enterprise wireless network.

 

These days, organizations dealing with an onslaught of wireless devices — and the growing infrastructure demands they create — are also looking at how the cloud may help them manage such tasks as provisioning, configuring and managing network infrastructure through a single, centralized interface. Hosted Wi-Fi might also support capacity requirements better with greater visibility into application consumption and prioritization. And it can save some of the CapEx (capital expenditures) of rolling out access to branch offices and teleworkers. Business continuity benefits are also gained when the infrastructure is protected by a cloud provider’s architectures for backup, security and redundancy.

 

Keeping Students Connected

This may sound like a lot to promise, but cloud-based Wi-Fi is gaining ground. For instance, at institutions of higher education, where pervasive Wi-Fi is increasingly a selling point for the schools and the “always-on” generation attending them, wireless LAN management challenges are common.

“Many people are carrying around smartphones about as powerful as a computer was eight years ago,” says Peter Souza, Director of Networking, Telecommunications and Technical Support at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tenn. “[Wi-Fi] is an essential service to provide customers.”

 

Enterprises considering Wi-Fi-in-the-cloud options can explore different solutions, as Souza did, to find the right fit. Some vendors, such as Meraki propose moving both controller and management functionality to the cloud, for example. Others tout benefits that result from distributing controller functions to intelligent access points and using management software that can be installed on site as either a virtual or physical appliance, or alternatively, that can run in the public cloud.

 

Cost Savings Add Up

The distributed controller option comes with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) advantages, including automated backup and recovery and the security of redundant data centers. Souza opted for this approach offered by Aerohive Networks when he replaced the college’s existing wireless network with 802.11n Wi-Fi. From a TCO perspective, Wi-Fi cloud-networking approaches — beginning with removing the expense of installing separate physical controllers in the infrastructure — should show savings. These costs can add up when an enterprise supports multiple locations, as does the cost of labor expended on maintaining, troubleshooting and upgrading the devices when more access points are added than a controller model can support. While larger enterprises may enjoy bigger IT budgets and staff, very few organizations have been immune to cost controls and labor reductions over the last few years.

 

Souza, and Assistant Network Manager Allen Foster, support nine campuses and thousands of users located a good distance apart. Tech staff can’t be at each site all the time, so avoiding the hassles and costs of purchasing, managing, troubleshooting, backing up and powering controllers at each location seemed like a good idea. At Roane State, the cloud approach eliminated wireless traffic crossing the WAN to a controller in order to be managed and firewalled. “Everything is controlled at the edge,” says Souza. Remote management in the cloud comes from the Aerohive HiveManager Online SaaS solution, which offers simple policy creation and centralized network management options regardless of location. “Being able to find a problem and fix it when you’re in a hotel room or at home in the evening is a big advantage,” says Foster. As for security, its features include 802.11i (WPA2), a wireless intrusion detection system (IDS), 802.1X authentication and rogue AP detection for more secure communications

 

While the wired LAN will retain a place in most large companies for a long time, many mobile devices no longer even have wired ports on them. As it becomes more important to support a robust Wi-Fi network, it is also increasingly important to support it in a way that reduces CapEx expenditures and the burdens of managing it in a pervasive-device world. For this, as for so many other reasons, the cloud may be calling.

 

Smart Enterprise Exchange is interested in your cloud applications. Have you considered hosting Wi-Fi? Other network apps? Would security concerns deter you from trying this approach? Share your stories with us and your peers.



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