Another Evolutionary Shift in Enterprise WiFi Management

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 12/6/2012 | 5 comments

Andrew Froehlich
WiFi in the enterprise has gone through two major shifts so far in its evolutionary lifespan, and it is about to go through a third -- a move to the cloud.

When WiFi first started to take a foothold in enterprise networks, the goal for the business was to provide a way for people to connect in high-traffic areas without the need to have physical wires. The solution was to place WiFi access points in targeted areas, such as conference rooms, lunch areas, and meeting halls.

The next shift occurred when desktops were abandoned in favor of laptops with built-in WiFi cards. Mobile workers became much more prevalent and demand for WiFi everywhere was the new norm. Companies trying to manage autonomous access points soon discovered that it can be a management nightmare to support hundreds, if not thousands of independent WiFi hotspots. Additionally, wireless coverage fine-tuning was really tricky because each access point had no knowledge of the other and had no built-in intelligence to communicate and fine-tune WiFi settings with neighboring access points.

A controller-based wireless appliance put an end to all that trouble. Using a wireless controller, an IT manager had the power to centrally manage all aspects of their wireless access points from software updates to power/channel adjustments. The controller-based model continues to be the most popular management method in the enterprise today.

But we may be on the cusp of yet another evolutionary shift in enterprise WiFi as network administrators weigh the pros and cons of moving controllers into the cloud. A company called Meraki got the ball rolling by offering customers a cloud-based management solution that makes it a snap to provision new WiFi access points and adds a host of bells and whistles in terms of wireless monitoring that network administrators and CIOs seem to love. And yes, this solution is fully PCI-compliant.

Small and midsized companies quickly warmed up to the cloud-controller model because it was one less hardware appliance they had to maintain and it allowed for very robust WiFi networks to be deployed without the need for a highly-skilled wireless administrator.

Now that Meraki was recently purchased by Cisco Systems, look for Cisco to start pushing cloud-controlled WiFi to larger companies and enterprises. According to a recent interview with Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Enterprise Wireless Networking Group: "Customers can get a switch, router, a WLAN, a controller, and just plug it into the Internet. That device 'phones home' to the Meraki cloud, and boom! It's there. It's very simple to deploy: We're talking minutes."

But while cloud-based wireless controller management architecture does have significant ease-of-use benefits, there are definite trade-offs, including:

  • More expensive ongoing support contracts -- essentially you are renting the controllers that live in the cloud.

  • Heavy reliance on Internet access -- no Internet means no way to manage.

  • Concern over security risks -- a great deal of information can be gleaned if the cloud is compromised.

  • Loss of software control -- software is pushed from the cloud to all APs, making testing and feature validation more difficult.

The future of enterprise WiFi management may be the cloud, but don't expect it any time soon. Network administrators in the enterprise value the amount of control they have over their networks, and they are likely to put up a fight to keep that control in-house as opposed to in the cloud. So for now, let cloud-based WiFi management mature a bit more before you decide to make the next evolutionary leap, but keep an eye on it.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
batye   Another Evolutionary Shift in Enterprise WiFi Management   1/1/2013 11:22:31 PM
Re: I Just
Rich - each joke have part of the truth... my worries if Kaspersky design secure OS with close co-operation by Russian KGB/FSB...
everyone started using it... and just imagine comrade your power where you could access any computer anywhere in the world running Kaspersky secure OS... :) lol...
David Wagner   Another Evolutionary Shift in Enterprise WiFi Management   12/7/2012 12:26:28 PM
Re: I Just
@Andrew- Ahh, right. That makes sense.
Andrew Froehlich   Another Evolutionary Shift in Enterprise WiFi Management   12/7/2012 9:08:33 AM
Re: I Just
@Dave, one big benefit is the fact that you can provision your wireless network without geographic restrictions.  In today's in-house controller architecture, you can provision wireless access points within the protected network.  But, new remote sites either require a separate controller at the site -- or poking holes through the firewall to allow access.  But in a cloud-controller situation, as long as you have access to the Internet, you can provision and control access points anywhere in the world with virtually no changes needed to your protected network.
User Ranking: Blogger
David Wagner   Another Evolutionary Shift in Enterprise WiFi Management   12/6/2012 5:38:56 PM
Re: I Just
Andrew- One thing I can't seem to figure out-- what is the difference btween managing this in the cloud versus in-house? It is still the same management tool, right? What gives the cloud the advantage here?
Hammad Masood   Another Evolutionary Shift in Enterprise WiFi Management   12/6/2012 3:27:03 PM
Re: I Just
I think security will always be the biggest question mark on this. This solution brings lot of convenience but no one will want to comprise for data theft .

The blogs and comments posted on do not reflect the views of TechWeb,, or its sponsors., TechWeb, and its sponsors do not assume responsibility for any comments, claims, or opinions made by authors and bloggers. They are no substitute for your own research and should not be relied upon for trading or any other purpose.

More Blogs from Andrew Froehlich
Andrew Froehlich   5/6/2014   13 comments
Not all clouds are equal. That's a pretty obvious statement that we can all agree on. Cloud service providers offer differing levels of services, redundancy, and customer service -- all at ...
Andrew Froehlich   4/30/2014   10 comments
In order for enterprise employees to work together as one unified group, they must follow carefully written policies and procedures -- but every once in a while, you may find yourself in ...
Andrew Froehlich   4/22/2014   49 comments
For those of us who study enterprise IT security, last year's Target store hack turned out to be a fantastic case study that was loaded with lessons to learn.
Andrew Froehlich   4/16/2014   22 comments
With news that Google slashed the price of their big-data offering "Big Query" by up to 85 percent, one has to wonder if the move is to ward off competitors -- or simply that the ...
Andrew Froehlich   3/18/2014   27 comments
At a recent South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Edward Snowden said the NSA is "setting fire to the future of the Internet." In light of this, the World Wide Web ...
Latest Archived Broadcast
We talk with Bernard Golden about accelerating application delivery in the cloud.
On-demand Video with Chat
Register for this video discussion to learn how tablets can provide true business usability and productivity.
E2 IT Migration Zones
IT Migration Zone - UK
Why PowerShell Is Important
Reduce the Windows 8 Footprint for VDI
Rethinking Storage Management
IT Migration Zone - FR
SQL Server : 240 To de mémoire flash pour votre data warehouse
Quand Office vient booster les revenus Cloud et Android de Microsoft
Windows Phone : Nokia veut davantage d'applications (et les utilisateurs aussi)
IT Migration Zone - DE
Cloud Computing: Warum Unternehmen trotz NSA auf die „private“ Wolke setzen sollten
Cloud Computing bleibt Wachstumsmarkt – Windows Azure ist Vorreiter
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Enterprise Efficiency Twitter Feed
Site Moderators Wanted
Enterprise Efficiency is looking for engaged readers to moderate the message boards on this site. Engage in high-IQ conversations with IT industry leaders; earn kudos and perks. Interested? E-mail:
Dell's Efficiency Modeling Tool
The major problem facing the CIO is how to measure the effectiveness of the IT department. Learn how Dell’s Efficiency Modeling Tool gives the CIO two clear, powerful numbers: Efficiency Quotient and Impact Quotient. These numbers can be transforma¬tive not only to the department, but to the entire enterprise.

Read the full report
The State of Enterprise Efficiency in the Virtual Era: Virtualization – Smart Approaches to Maximize Gains
Virtualization is a presence in nearly all enterprise data centers. But not all companies are using it to its best effect. Learn the common characteristics of success, what barriers companies face, and how to get the most from your efforts.

Read the full report
Informed CIO: Dollars & Sense: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Cut through the VDI hype and get the full picture -- including ROI and the impact on your Data Center -- to make an informed decision about your virtual desktop infrastructure deployments.

Read the full report
A Video Case Study – Translational Genomics Research Institute
e2 Video

On the Case
TGen IT: Where We're Going Next

7|11|12   |   08:12   |   10 comments

Now that TGen has broken new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions, the company discusses what will come next for it and for personalized medicine.
On the Case
Better Care Through Better Communications

6|6|12   |   02:24   |   11 comments

The achievements of the TGen/Dell project could improve how all people receive healthcare, because they are creating ways to improve end-to-end communication of medical data.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Are Now

5|15|12   |   06:58   |   6 comments

TGen is breaking new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Were

4|27|12   |   06:45   |   10 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute wanted to save lives, but its efforts were hobbled by immense computing challenges related to collecting, processing, sharing, and storing enormous amounts of data.
On the Case
1,200% Faster

4|18|12   |   02:27   |   12 comments

Through their partnership, Dell and TGen have increased the speed of TGen’s medical research by 1,200 percent.
On the Case
IT May Improve Children's Chances of Survival

4|17|12   |   02:12   |   8 comments

IT is helping medical researchers reach breakthroughs in a way and pace never seen before.
On the Case
Medical Advances in the Cloud

4|10|12   |   1:25   |   5 comments

TGen and Dell are pushing the boundaries of computing, and harnessing the power of the cloud to improve healthcare.
On the Case
TGen: Living the Mission

4|9|12   |   2:25   |   3 comments

TGen's CIO puts the organizational mission at the heart of everything the IT staff does.
On the Case
TGen Speeding Up Biomedical Research to Save More Lives

4|5|12   |   1:59   |   6 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute is revamping its computing to improve speed, storage, and collaboration – and, most importantly, to save lives.
On the Case
Computing Power Helping to Save Children's Lives

3|28|12   |   2:13   |   3 comments

The Translational Genomics Institute’s partnership with Dell is enabling them to treat kids with neuroblastoma more quickly and save more lives.
Tom Nolle
The Big Reason to Use Office

3|18|14   |   02:24   |   46 comments

Office and personal productivity tools come in a first-class and coach flavor set, but what makes the difference is primarily little things that most users won't encounter. What's the big issue in using something other than Office, and can you get around it?
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Mobile Security — A Use Case

3|4|14   |   04:27   |   16 comments

New mobile security solutions can accommodate a wide array of needs, including those of a complex university environment.
Tom Nolle
Killing Net Neutrality Might Save You Money

1|16|14   |   2:13   |   16 comments

The DC Court of Appeals voided most of the Neutrality Order, and whatever it might mean for the Internet overall, it might mean better and cheaper Internet VPNs for businesses.
Tom Nolle
The Internet of Everythinguseful

1|10|14   |   2:18   |   19 comments

We really don't want an "Internet of Everything" but even building an Internet of Everythinguseful means setting some ground rules to insure there's value in the process and that costs and risks are minimized.
Tom Nolle
Maturing Google Chrome

12|30|13   |   2.18   |   25 comments

Google's Chrome OS has a lot of potential value and a lot of recent press, but it still needs something to make it more than a thin client. It needs cloud integration, it needs extended APIs via web services, and it needs to suck it up and support a hard drive.
Sara Peters
No More Cookie-Cutter IT

12|23|13   |   03.58   |   21 comments

Creating the right combination of technology, people, and processes for your IT organization is a lot like baking Christmas cookies.
Sara Peters
Smart Wigs Not a Smart Idea

12|5|13   |   3:01   |   46 comments

Sony is seeking a patent for wigs that contain computing devices.
Tom Nolle
Cloud in the Wild

12|4|13   |   02:23   |   15 comments

On a recent African trip I saw examples of the value of the cloud in developing nations, for educational and community development programs. We could build on this, but not only in developing economies, because these same programs are often under-supported even in first-world countries.
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Is Malware Evading Your IPS?

11|18|13   |   03:16   |   4 comments

Intrusion prevention software is supposed to detect and block malware intrusions, but clever malware authors can evade your IPS in these five main ways.
Sara Peters
Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

9|27|13   |   3:15   |   38 comments

A good professional mentor can change your life for the better... but where do you find one?
Tom Nolle
SDN Wars & You Could Win

9|17|13   |   2:10   |   5 comments

VMware's debate with Cisco on SDN might finally create a fusion between an SDN view that's all about software and another that's all about network equipment. That would be good for every enterprise considering the cloud and SDN.
Ivan Schneider
The Future of the Smart Watch

9|12|13   |   3:19   |   39 comments

Wearing a bulky, oversized watch is good training for the next phase in wristwatches: the Internet-enabled, connected watch. Why the smartphone-tethered connected watch makes sense, plus Ivan demos an entirely new concept for the "smart watch."
Tom Nolle
Cutting Your Cloud Storage Costs

9|4|13   |   2:06   |   3 comments

Cloud storage costs are determined primarily by the rate at which files are changed and the possibility of concurrent access/update. If you can structure your storage use to optimize these factors you can cut costs, perhaps to zero.
Sara Peters
Do CIOs Need an IT Background?

8|29|13   |   2:11   |   23 comments

Most of the CIOs interviewed in the How to Become a CIO series did not start their careers as IT professionals. So is an IT background essential?
Ivan Schneider
The Internet Loves Birthdays

8|27|13   |   3:25   |   69 comments

The Internet has evolved into a machine for drumming up a chorus of "Happy Birthday" messages, from family, friends, friends of friends who you added on Facebook, random people that you circled on G+, and increasingly, automated bots. Enough already.