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Cloud computing is the new rage in the wireless world. But will it really fix your Wi-Fi problems?

By Marcus Burton, director, technical marketing, Ruckus Wireless, special to Network World
January 03, 2013 10:00 AM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

With the increased performance and reliability of Wi-Fi technology, businesses are tossing Ethernet connections aside. As Wi-Fi gains favor and usurps wired access, Wi-Fi capabilities are changing quickly, causing significant disparity in WLAN architectures and implementation models.

These shifts are causing customers and vendors to assess and reassess network management, monitoring, system control, and optimization of WLAN system that are compatible with yesterday's devices, optimized for today's devices, and ready for tomorrow's devices.

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In this state of flux, organizations of all shapes and sizes are asking similar architectural questions to find the best way(s) to deliver a wireless LAN:

  • Controller or no controller?
  • Hardware, virtual or cloud controller?
  • Central or distributed data flow?
  • Cloud or no cloud?
  • Public or private cloud?

The only clear answer today is "yes."

Though many industry pundits and suppliers are focusing exclusively on a single delivery model, enterprises -- each with unique business needs -- don't agree which model is best or that any one model is the ultimate panacea.

This paves the way for the diverse, competitive and, some might say, "crowded" WLAN infrastructure space -- because everyone has their own architectural (sometimes religious) identity.

Clouding the LANscape

Cloud computing is beginning to play a part in the Wi-Fi architecture debate, because -- like many other segments of computing -- it offers highly scalable capabilities that are difficult or expensive to deliver locally. The central business benefit to cloud networking is that a business of any size can now have access to an enterprise-class wireless solution that won't overwhelm the IT staff or break the IT budget.

As Wi-Fi becomes a primary access method and mobile devices litter the enterprise, businesses want to make smarter, more strategic decisions about how the network is being used and how it could and should be used as a revenue opportunity or to optimize employee productivity.

But to make those decisions, businesses need more data (lots of data), which is where the aggregate resources of cloud clusters really shine. Specifically, pools of servers with nearly unlimited capacity and processing power can help store and analyze huge amounts of Wi-Fi usage data for trend assessment, analytics and reporting. When paired with elegant management, search and monitoring tools, a cloud architecture can offer big value to businesses in a relatively inexpensive package.

Clouds -- whether private or public -- are also enjoying favor in many business environments where distributed solutions are necessary (retail is a quintessential example). Cloud networks provide a graceful plug-n-play deployment model for remote sites and remote employees where IT staff resources are limited or nonexistent. Because cloud management can be accessible from anywhere, distributed or centralized IT teams can easily manage and monitor distributed sites.

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