Anything “cloud” related is hot right now. I suspect that marketing folks at Coca-Cola are brainstorming how to get their products in the cloud. Marshmallow manufacturers have less of a tough road to hoe because their product looks like a cloud anyways, but I digress. Wireless networks are already ethereal enough that making the jump to cloud management is not really a stretch. After all, you can’t see a wireless network; it’s just there, like the cloud. But there can be real benefits to the cloud management of a wireless network in terms of initial activation, costs and troubleshooting.
Still sound a bit improbable? Chances are you actually are already using some form of wireless cloud management in your everyday life. If you utilize Gmail, Dropbox, or iCloud at any point throughout your day, you are utilizing a cloud computing service.
Cloud-based management of a wireless system means that instead of needing on-site controllers, for instance, the configuration of the access points is stored off-site and the access points access their configuration data over the Internet. Since these controllers can cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, this cost savings should definitely not be overlooked. If you had a controller based system, would you be disciplined enough to regularly back up the configuration? With a cloud-based system, this is not an issue since your configuration information is stored on multiple servers off-site.
Zero touch setups can be created using cloud-based wireless management, which allows for very quick activation of newly added access points and reduced IT involvement. Zero touch means the same as the older term “plug and play.” Basically, a default configuration is created and stored in the cloud. Then, when a new access point is plugged into the network, as long as the access point can get an IP address and has internet access, it finds its way to the cloud configuration and it is automatically downloaded to it. Now, some refinements of the configuration may be needed, but zero touch setups through the cloud can really make it quick to bring up additions to the wireless network. After getting things going, the IT staff can always come back to refine the setup – but it does reduce the time to initial activation.
To ease your mind, remember that the data being sent and received through your wireless network is not going through your wide area network connection and through the internet. The access points still communicate through your local area network and hand off the data inside your network just like any network device, such as a switch or router does now. It’s usually just the configuration and management of the network that is based offsite.
Speaking of management, there’s a lot more to managing a wireless network than just bringing it up and letting it fly. It used to be that collecting data like bandwidth usage, application tracking, security attacks and such were expensive and time consuming to come by and, because of that, few people actually did it. Now, instead of investing thousands in hardware and software to monitor the health and usage of the wireless network, many of these tasks can be done via the same cloud-based system that is handling your configurations. You take advantage of superior tools, and costs are shared by hundreds of companies allowing you to have access to them without the high start-up and maintenance costs.
To conclude, cloud-based wireless management, or any cloud-based management for that matter, is not just a marketer’s way of separating you from your company’s money – there are some real benefits in play here.
Now, go have a “cloud” Coke! You earned it!