If Wi-Fi Networks Can Operate Without Controllers, Why Do Companies Still Use Them?

Last week, we started the discussion about if the architecture of WLAN networks was a relevant topic in 2018.

If a company offers both controller and cloud-managed controller-less architectures, ask why do they offer both? If the controller-based design is considered the right path for larger or more complex deployments, what elements, specifically, would contribute to the decision to deploy both styles? What elements of your Wi-Fi requirements would enable you to opt for the less costly cloud-managed controller-less models, and at what point does the vendor say that you need to reconfigure your entire architecture to controller-based? Do the controller-based and controller-less models communicate with one another as one?

If you deploy a distributed, cloud-managed controller-less WLAN in most settings and a controller-based WLAN in your central office, can you push a single policy or update throughout all of the WLANs? If you want to move a cloud-managed controller-less deployment to a controller-based one, what specific elements are required, such as re-architecture, policy reconfiguration, licenses, and new hardware—including the controller(s)?

Some controller-based companies offer a “hybrid” approach, called distributed forwarding, in which local traffic is forwarded between access points, but major control functions are still handled at the controller. In that case, ask: what features are not available locally? Some can include policy enforcement, client authentication, deep packet inspection, or quality of service (QoS).

If the company offers only a distributed cloud-managed controller-less architecture, how does it handle control functions? Is control functionality centralized anywhere, including in the cloud? If yes, what happens if that control point becomes unavailable? How does it handle roaming, including Layer 3 roaming?

I’ve asked a lot of questions here, but my goal is to get you thinking about the underlying architecture related to different vendor offerings in the WLAN marketplace.

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Alexandra Gates is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Aerohive Networks, where she helps define market strategy and vision for the cloud and WLAN products. She is a CWNA with a comprehensive background in wireless technology, including capacity and management planning, RF design, network implementation, and general industry knowledge.

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