Product Review: AirTight Networks Wi-Fi

IDS/IPS leader AirTight is in the Wi-Fi systems business now, with a comprehensive and flexible offering that combines the best of access and assurance.

Many years ago (well, it seems like many years), I bought a product from AirTight Networks (I can't remember the product's name, unfortunately) that was basically a standalone Wi-Fi IDS/IPS box, about the size of an AP. Even though it could be updated over the Web, the company decided to phase it out, and regardless they never did a .11n version. Sigh. As someone who runs a small business, I need solutions geared to, well, a small business. I get to use enterprise-class equipment all the time, but, for production use, well, we lack an IT staff. I'm it. And, as much as I enjoy the therapy of using hands-on real technology, I need solutions compatible with both our available IT resources (my weekends, mostly) and budget (I remain cheap, um, I mean, frugal, or is that cost-effective?). That AirTight product really fit the bill.

But now AirTight, who remain a leader in Wi-Fi IDS/IPS for organizations of all sizes, has entered the mainstream Wi-Fi business with a line of APs that (no surprise here) can also function as sensors, and which feature cloud-based management - a product set perfect for small businesses and branch offices, but which can also scale to meet the needs of almost any enterprise. And - wait a minute - I think I got my standalone IDS/IPS product back in the bargain, and this time with cloud-based management. Pretty cool...

AirTight was kind enough to send me two of their SpectraGuard SS-300-AT-C-60 AP/sensors. These are dual-radio (one 3x3:3 and the other 2x2:2), dual-band 802.11n units that feature both internal and external antennas, and which will run on 802.3af power. I decided to set up one as a dual-band .11n AP (20 MHz. channel at 2.4 to meet our internal bandplan, and 40 MHz. at 5 GHz.), and the other as a dual-band sensor. Management is in the cloud, so it's just a matter of plugging in the AP/sensors, logging in and doing the basic configuration. How hard could that be?

As it turns out, it's pretty easy. Hardware installation is literally as simple as removing the AP from the box, connecting it to a network (I used an external AC adapter), and logging into the cloud-based console. Configuration involves a bit of work setting up SSIDs and device templates, and you'll probably need to read through the Access Point Configuration Guide (or use the extensive online Help facility) to do this the first time. I found this process a bit complex, but AirTight tells me that they are shortly adding a wizard facility, so all of this should be much easier in the future. Regardless, once you have templates, it's easy to apply configuration and polices across a potentially large number of APs without much work at all. Multiple templates can be established for customization as required. It's also very easy to customize the Dashboard (a "home screen", if you will) with a wide variety of monitoring displays, and there are also extensive reporting and analysis features as well. In short, there's a little work involved up front in understanding the usage philosophy of the console, but the result is a very comprehensive offering that really shows what cloud-based management can do.

And just as we can't live without Wi-Fi, I'm also a believer that assurance systems, either integrated with the WLAN or as an overlay, are today an absolute requirement in every WLAN installation. AirTight gives you everything you need in one box, as it were - you can be up and running in minutes with enterprise-class services and the convenience of managing your network from anywhere. I wholeheartedly recommend the cloud-based approach for everyone, with the possible exceptions of highly-regulated industries (healthcare and financial services come to mind), government, and very large enterprises. But even these entities, I believe, will adopt exactly what AirTight has embodied in the future. For now, I think most end-user organizations will be quite happy with what AirTight has produced, and I expect both cloud-based management and integrated IDS/IPS to become the norms going forward.

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