Wireless AP controller-less architecture practical fit for SMB

  • What is the traditional function of a wireless controller in a wireless network in the first place?
  • How would an Organization benefit from an Access point with built-in wireless control? 
  • Who are the known vendors/brands that offer a Built-in wireless controller product and architecture? 
  • When is controller-less architecture not appropriate wireless deployment?

Wireless Access Points with built-in controller Capability

In recent years more and more wireless vendors includes in their product portfolio a wireless design where in a controller appliance is not needed, instead the role of the wireless controller is being provided by the Access Points them self also called as controller less architecture. This access point are not the regular so called dumb or thin AP as we use to call them since they have the fundamental function of what a wireless controller do on a wireless network. This access points provide the same benefits of having wireless controller for the wireless access users.

With different wireless brands that offers more or less the same concept of a built-in Wireless controller, there are scenarios where they are more appropriate, while on some are not. First what is WLAN or also call wireless lan controller, then lets check what makes a good access point in a controller less architecture.


What is the traditional function of a wireless controller in a wireless network in the first place?

Basically, traditional wireless controller provide data plane route, centralize control and management over all the wireless access point that is registered to it. This is very much beneficial most especially if you have multiple access points deployed on your network. It will be quite a hassle to configure and monitor each and every Access Points as your network grows.

Wireless controller typical features automatic channel selection where it automatically set the Wireless channel being use to make sure that there be no channel conflict between the neighboring access points. The Wireless controller are also responsible for seamless roaming, making sure that the user stay on the same SSID and not be disconnected as the user walk through the coverage of one Access point to the next. Without a wireless controller each Access point will need to be manually updated in case a new firmware version needs to be uploaded in to the APs.


Sample Architecture of a Controller base WLAN


How would an Organization benefit from an Access point with built-in wireless control? 

Wireless controller comes with a price that most small and medium office may not afford just yet. Just to satisfy the business needs, some organization may deploy standalone access points which serves its purpose anyways which is mostly to allow its users to connect to the internet but with the understanding of its limitations.

Standalone access point normally have separate firmware version compared to the thin access points hence migrating from standalone access points to controller base typically needs flashing the current firmware for a supported version of the controller, this may require from the company a new purchases and support services. On top of technical requirement migrating to controller base wireless network will usually require that each access point be provided with an access point license, One AP to one license purchase ratio. Then of course the purchase of wireless controller appliance. Though some wireless vendor now support virtualization of the wireless controller or cloud services, this will require from you an existing server and VM license or a cloud subscription in a annually basis of renewal.

In short the best benefit that an access point with built-in wireless controller is the lesser cost of investment. Wireless Access point with Built-in Wireless controller capability is perfect for small to medium enterprise as it allow both the functionally of a real wireless controller base environment without the complexity and specially the amount needed to order and implement it

  1. Access points with built-in controller have all the fundamental wireless controller features such as automatic channel selection and seamless roaming, plus more, this depends on the added features introduce by different wireless vendors.
  2. As for redundancy, since this access points act as a controller all together they can support each other as a backup when the one acting the primary controller would fail making your wireless controller redundant, unlike with the typical wireless controller base appliance where you will need to purchase an additional appliance and appropriate license to it for high availability needs.
  3. Access Point Licensing, This access point unlike the typical wireless controller do no need to be purchase with per AP licenses to be registered to a controller. All you need is the access point it self and just keep on adding this AP as needed so long as added AP are all supported models.


Sample Architecture of controller-less WLAN


Who are the known vendors/brands that offer a Built-in wireless controller product and architecture? 

As of today’s writing the know wireless vendor that shows strong in the market that support controller less architecture are the Dell Aerohive, HP Aruba and Ruckus wireless.

Aerohive, now resells by Dell network. Aerohive have been offering wireless access point with built-in controller for many years already. Aerohive initiate the description of this architecture as “controller-less”. Aside from this architecture cloud base controller subscription where they compete with Cisco Meraki for the cloud.

HP Aruba, Though Aruba still with existing OEM  agreement with Dell as of the moment, now got acquired by HPe. HP Aruba Also offer both appliance base controller and built-in controller on its AP which they call as “IAP” or Aruba Instant Access Point.

Ruckus wireless, now acquired by Brocade just recently introduce their built-in controller access point product line called as “unleashed”. While Aerohive and Aruba do specify the max limit of the number of AP that can support this type of architecture, Ruckus clearly specified that unleash access points can scale up to 25 AP only. Any requirement above 25 Access Point limit will require a ruckus appliance base wireless controller.


When is controller-less architecture not appropriate wireless deployment?

Indeed the built-in controller base access point provide less complexity, less cost and common controller features as well. With the trends and innovation of today’s technology in the market it is still best to properly evaluate the capacity and growth of any organization.

Still a wireless controller appliance will not fade away as larger network will be more appropriate for this type of deployment. In terms of scalability, the role of a controller will require added system resources on top of its basic role as an access point. The more AP implemented, the more user will connect, the more processes needs to be executed. Once you feel that the load may be too much for it to handle this most likely be the time for a wireless upgrade by introducing an appliance base wireless controller. Good thing is that most of this APs can be upgrade just by change of firmware support for it to act as thin AP.


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