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Network World - The cloud is everywhere today, offering the possibility of all manner of IT functions on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis. In this test, we looked at three companies that provide WLAN management services in the cloud, and we came away impressed.
Because of the mission-critical nature of network management and the fact that these tools have traditionally lived on-site, there is some understandable skepticism toward cloud-based WLAN management. But we discovered that cloud-based management offers an interesting path to reducing cost, improving productivity and offering a range of functions that otherwise would involve sizeable capital investments.
The idea of moving wireless LAN management to the cloud has proven so interesting that a number of vendors are now delivering these services. We tested three cloud-based offerings: HiveManager Online from Aerohive Networks, D-Link's CloudCommand and Meraki's Cloud Controller.
We wanted to find out if there is a compromise in capability between cloud and traditional WLAN management systems. What do the economics really look like? And could cloud capability literally move the network operations center into the palm of one's hand?
Traditionally, WLAN management functions in enterprise-class products have been implemented either in a WLAN controller or in a separate appliance or server (virtual or otherwise), or sometimes, both. Small-to-midsize business products usually involve configuring firmware in each access point involved, via a secure-HTTP interface.
An effective centralized management console should be capable of performing all required functions across the entire network, no matter how large or distributed, easily exporting all key interfaces and intrinsic facilities.
Moving the management system into the cloud isn't as big a departure as it might initially seem. Eliminating the need for local hardware (usually accessed via the browser-based client, as is required with the cloud) doesn't seem like it should be a big deal, and many other mission-critical functions have gone the Web/cloud/SaaS route.
So, just how good are cloud-based wireless-LAN management systems? Is there any compromise in functionality? Can they perform in mission-critical settings? And do they represent a viable strategic direction for what is, again, a vital function?
The evaluation process in this case was a bit different from the typical Network World test, in that no throughput testing, functional verification or other benchmarking was performed. Rather, we compared features by examining the capabilities of each product, using a live installation. The results are assembled in Table 1.
We also noted what we liked -- and didn't -- about each implementation. The table is not exhaustive -- some of the products reviewed have literally hundreds of functions. But we wanted to make sure that an enterprise would be happy with the cloud service implementation in each case, so representative key functions are listed.