On-Premise or Cloud Based Wireless Controllers?

When installing a small office/home office setup, you may only need a single router and wifi access point combination, which provides wired and wireless access. However, when more coverage is needed or when providing guest wireless, you may want to invest in an enterprise wireless system. But how do you decide which system to choose, and are cloud based controllers or on-premise the best method?

Following up on our post “A Day in the Life of Guest Wifi”, we know some of the considerations when providing guest wireless. But whether it’s guest access or company use, both needs share some common considerations when it comes to hardware. A system is comprised of 3 things:

  • Controller: This can be either a hardware based on-premise controller, like a Ubiquiti Cloud Key, Cisco Air, Ruckus Smartzone. These are physical devices which connect to the network and contain the software to manage the settings, firmware, and configuration for multiple Access Points (APs). Or, it can be completely cloud based like Aruba Central, Cisco Meraki, or Access Networks ARCC among others.
  • Network: The router or firewall, switches, and power supply system (often Power Over Ethernet or PoE) make up the network component.
  • Access Points: The actual APs are what broadcast the wireless signal, and you can have as many or as few as the system you select allows. Scalability is a big consideration when choosing a system.

When choosing between cloud and on-premise, there are benefits to both. It’s a great opportunity to decide which setup fits your specific needs (or perhaps a hybrid). On-premise hardware based controllers often provide more reliability as you can use DHCP options to point new APs to the controller, and if one needs to be reset you can do so and easily re-adopt and re-configure the AP. Also, the management functions will continue to be available even in the absence of an internet connection, making troubleshooting easier in most cases. However, you have to build out remote access to the controller which can be a security risk if the proper access lists and password policies are not used, and it’s another physical device to potentially fail.

Cloud based systems allow for a smaller hardware footprint and often less cost to start up. They also give you more flexibility in management as many have dedicated mobile apps, and adding them to the controller can be as easy as booting them up or running a single command via SSH. It contributes to easier multi-site management as well if you have multiple offices or are a managed service provider by giving a centralized management console. The downside is if the internet goes down, management functions are no longer available and troubleshooting failed adoption of devices can be time-consuming and difficult, and recurring license fees can quickly deplete any savings from not purchasing a controller.

In most cases, a small deployment will work best with cloud based access points and larger deployments (25 APs+) will work best with on-premise controllers. As to which brands, that is up to you to decide but it’s important to review long term cost and consumer reviews from the market sector you’ll be using them in. If you need some help identifying the best solution, give us a call or contact us here and we’ll review your situation and guide you to the best solution for you!

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