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A Flexible Approach To High-Performance Wi-Fi

By Mathew Edwards in · HiveMind Blog · May 23, 2017
Earlier this year, Aerohive introduced Connect, a new cloud networking solution, which is now available across our entire access point and switch portfolio and delivers enterprise connectivity starting at $229.
At the time, we explained Aerohive Connect addresses a common problem, in which “many organizations only need basic connectivity, but get stuck with either a SOHO solution, or overspend for a full enterprise solution to get fast, reliable connectivity. And still, they have overpaid for a bunch of features that they will never likely need.” (For full story, read Can You Pay Less For Enterprise Wi-Fi Without Compromise?)
What we did was to deliver 802.11ac connectivity, cloud management, and interactive support starting at $229, and built on the same platform as Aerohive’s full mobility solutions. The goal was to serve organizations that simply require great connectivity, centralized management tools, low cost, and the ability to seamlessly upgrade their services and features if needed, without complexity.
Flash forward a few months. Today we are extending Connect from a handful of access points, to a complete product line of next-generation Wave 2 access points with dual 5 GHz radios, and high capacity, cloud-managed switches. 
Why are we have we taken this approach to our networking solution and how will our customers benefit? There are many reasons. Let’s discuss.
Future-proofing your network
You can’t predict how your network needs will change in the coming years, which can make planning your infrastructure pretty painful at times. There are 50 billion network connected devices expected by 2020, and 1 trillion by 2035, with the vast majority of these leveraging your Wi-Fi for mobility and convenience reasons. That’s a lot of devices! 
Many organizations already feel overwhelmed with the number of Wi-Fi hungry corporate, guest, BYOD, and IoT devices that are connecting today. And every day there are new devices showing up that are causing IT departments to continually monitor and adapt network capacity, security, and management.
 
We are seeing a rapid evolution of Wi-Fi technologies to accommodate new bandwidth challenges, with 802.11ac Wave 2 the firm favorite amongst organizations hitting their refresh cycles, and 802.11ax on the horizon. 
But is that enough? 
New access points deliver more speed, however there are other considerations for your infrastructure as you push the upgrade button. With the uncertainty of your organization’s mobility requirements in even the next year, it is important to ensure that your network has room to flex as needed. 
Throwing in the latest and greatest access points is a starting point, but with refresh cycles between 3-5 years, your network could show its age far before then if not planned appropriately.
 
So how do you create a fully-flexible Wi-Fi platform to serve your needs both today and as time moves on?
Many vendors will propose a solution that is based on your present network needs, but neglects three years from now. Which in some cases is fine, as you don’t want to overpay now for something you won’t immediately realize the benefits of. 
But, in other (many) cases, vendors don’t make it clear how you will be impacted as you look to scale your network over time. Customers are often subject to hidden costs due to inflexible technology and business terms of their vendor, but they may not be aware of that until it’s too late. 
As mentioned, Wi-Fi access points are advancing with the latest standards to push far beyond the gigabit barrier, and that’s the natural part of an upgrade, but let’s look at other areas to consider for maximizing performance and scale.
Cloud networking and controller-less Wi-Fi 
Cloud networking and controller-less are two key advances in Wi-Fi that have both matured over recent years to become the forefront of architectural designs of leading Wi-Fi vendors. These technologies offer technical scale and commercial flexibility for organizations that know their connectivity requirements will continue to change.
 
Let’s start with controller-less, or distributed control Wi-Fi architectures. 
Many years ago, WLAN controllers were developed to coordinate RF, power, roaming services etc. However, as higher demands were placed on networks, especially as 802.11n began to offer significant bandwidth gains, it became apparent that WLAN controllers would one day become a clear bottleneck and single point of failure, that day has passed. 
Distributed control architectures increase overall speed, scale, and resilience, by eliminating centralized controllers and instead spreading the control plane amongst the entire fabric of the network. This means:
 
No more topping out performance on an oversubscribed controller that only has a 20Gb uplink for 500 access points. Distributed control forwards and polices data at the edge.
No more scale limitations – Controller-based solutions can only ever connect a certain number of devices, once that max is reached, you need to invest in additional controllers, and a management server for centralized policy management. Distributed control is simple, just keep adding access points as needed…
No more single point of failure – With a shared control plane, access points have no reliance on any one point, unlike WLAN controllers which operate as the brain of the whole network. You can of course add redundant controllers, but that means further unnecessary $$ spent.
 
Great, now we can keep adding more access points to our network without worrying about hidden performance or cost hits. What about the cloud, how does that help to create a flexible network?
 
We stressed the necessity to de-centralize the control and data plane of your Wi-Fi network, however we still need one thing centralized…management. Cloud networking is rapidly being adopted by organizations due to its increased flexibility to manage, operate, update, and support potentially thousands of devices from a single location. 
Cloud networking also gives customers more options financially, with the ability to spread costs or fully outsource network operations to managed service providers.
 
We have reached an important time in Wi-Fi architectural evolution, where cloud networking supported by a foundation of distributed control Wi-Fi, is offering customers an unrivalled level of scale and flexibility to accommodate ever changing connectivity requirements, without previously seen compromises posed by legacy controller-based deployments.
 
Furthermore, vendors are now leveraging their cloud networking platform to provide a fully-flexible solution that not only serves capacity adaption, but also policy, service, and support needs. 
Recognizing that needs change, Aerohive Connect is the perfect starting point to provide self-optimizing and self-healing network access, with centralized unified management, and unlimited scale with the ability to add advanced features and support as required.
 
Connect delivers the flexibility that wireless-first organizations need, built on the same cloud and distributed Wi-Fi architecture that has been serving tens of thousands of customers for years. If you are looking for the latest generation of access solutions but don’t want to blow your budget doing so, check out the Connect product line that delivers enterprise connectivity, without compromise.
Resources
Aerohive Connect Overview
Aerohive Select Overview 
Aerohive Connect and Select Demo
Aerohive Connect: Two-Minute Video

Earlier this year, Aerohive introduced Connect, a new cloud networking solution, which is now available across our entire access point and switch portfolio and delivers enterprise connectivity starting at $229.

 At the time, we explained Aerohive Connect addresses a common problem, in which “many organizations only need basic connectivity, but get stuck with either a SOHO solution, or overspend for a full enterprise solution to get fast, reliable connectivity. And still, they have overpaid for a bunch of features that they will never likely need. (For full story, read Can You Pay Less For Enterprise Wi-Fi Without Compromise?)

What we did was to deliver 802.11ac connectivity, cloud management, and interactive support starting at $229, and built on the same platform as Aerohive’s full mobility solutions. The goal was to serve organizations that simply require great connectivity, centralized management tools, low cost, and the ability to seamlessly upgrade their services and features if needed, without complexity. Read about how controllers are dead (and why) here.

Flash forward a few months. Today we are extending Connect from a handful of access points, to a complete product line of next-generation Wave 2 access points with dual 5 GHz radios, and high capacity, cloud-managed switches.

Why are we have we taken this approach to our networking solution and how will our customers benefit? There are many reasons. Let’s discuss.

Future-proofing your network

You can’t predict how your network needs will change in the coming years, which can make planning your infrastructure pretty painful at times. There are 50 billion network connected devices expected by 2020, and 1 trillion by 2035, with the vast majority of these leveraging your Wi-Fi for mobility and convenience reasons. That’s a lot of devices!

Many organizations already feel overwhelmed with the number of Wi-Fi hungry corporate, guest, BYOD, and IoT devices that are connecting today. And every day there are new devices showing up that are causing IT departments to continually monitor and adapt network capacity, security, and management.

We are seeing a rapid evolution of Wi-Fi technologies to accommodate new bandwidth challenges, with 802.11ac Wave 2 the firm favorite amongst organizations hitting their refresh cycles, and 802.11ax on the horizon. 

But is that enough?

New access points deliver more speed, however there are other considerations for your infrastructure as you push the upgrade button. With the uncertainty of your organization’s mobility requirements in even the next year, it is important to ensure that your network has room to flex as needed.

Throwing in the latest and greatest access points is a starting point, but with refresh cycles between 3-5 years, your network could show its age far before then if not planned appropriately.

So how do you create a fully-flexible Wi-Fi platform to serve your needs both today and as time moves on? 

Many vendors will propose a solution that is based on your present network needs, but neglects three years from now. Which in some cases is fine, as you don’t want to overpay now for something you won’t immediately realize the benefits of.

But, in other (many) cases, vendors don’t make it clear how you will be impacted as you look to scale your network over time. Customers are often subject to hidden costs due to inflexible technology and business terms of their vendor, but they may not be aware of that until it’s too late.

As mentioned, Wi-Fi access points are advancing with the latest standards to push far beyond the gigabit barrier, and that’s the natural part of an upgrade, but let’s look at other areas to consider for maximizing performance and scale. 

Cloud networking and controller-less Wi-Fi

Cloud networking and controller-less are two key advances in Wi-Fi that have both matured over recent years to become the forefront of architectural designs of leading Wi-Fi vendors. These technologies offer technical scale and commercial flexibility for organizations that know their connectivity requirements will continue to change.

Let’s start with controller-less, or distributed control Wi-Fi architectures.

Many years ago, WLAN controllers were developed to coordinate RF, power, roaming services etc. However, as higher demands were placed on networks, especially as 802.11n began to offer significant bandwidth gains, it became apparent that WLAN controllers would one day become a clear bottleneck and single point of failure, that day has passed.

Distributed control architectures increase overall speed, scale, and resilience, by eliminating centralized controllers and instead spreading the control plane amongst the entire fabric of the network. This means: 

  • No more topping out performance on an oversubscribed controller that only has a 20Gb uplink for 500 access points. Distributed control forwards and polices data at the edge. 
  • No more scale limitations – Controller-based solutions can only ever connect a certain number of devices, once that max is reached, you need to invest in additional controllers, and a management server for centralized policy management. Distributed control is simple, just keep adding access points as needed… 
  • No more single point of failure – With a shared control plane, access points have no reliance on any one point, unlike WLAN controllers which operate as the brain of the whole network. You can of course add redundant controllers, but that means further unnecessary $$ spent.

Great, now we can keep adding more access points to our network without worrying about hidden performance or cost hits. What about the cloud, how does that help to create a flexible network?

We stressed the necessity to de-centralize the control and data plane of your Wi-Fi network, however we still need one thing centralized…management. Cloud networking is rapidly being adopted by organizations due to its increased flexibility to manage, operate, update, and support potentially thousands of devices from a single location. 

Cloud networking also gives customers more options financially, with the ability to spread costs or fully outsource network operations to managed service providers.

We have reached an important time in Wi-Fi architectural evolution, where cloud networking supported by a foundation of distributed control Wi-Fi, is offering customers an unrivalled level of scale and flexibility to accommodate ever changing connectivity requirements, without previously seen compromises posed by legacy controller-based deployments. 

Furthermore, vendors are now leveraging their cloud networking platform to provide a fully-flexible solution that not only serves capacity adaption, but also policy, service, and support needs.

Recognizing that needs change, Aerohive Connect is the perfect starting point to provide self-optimizing and self-healing network access, with centralized unified management, and unlimited scale with the ability to add advanced features and support as required.

Connect delivers the flexibility that wireless-first organizations need, built on the same cloud and distributed Wi-Fi architecture that has been serving tens of thousands of customers for years. If you are looking for the latest generation of access solutions but don’t want to blow your budget doing so, check out the Connect product line that delivers enterprise connectivity, without compromise.

Resources

 

Mathew Edwards (@Mobility_Mat)

Mat is Manager, Product Marketing at Aerohive where he helps drive strategy and vision for Aerohive's wireless LAN solutions.