There are currently two deployment models for wireless enterprise access points: controller-based with lightweight access points and autonomous access points.
The controller-based solution offers a centralized management model while the autonomous model has the access point providing all the functionality, including security, networking, management, etc. Most major wireless manufacturers offer both solutions, but the trend is moving fast to controller-based solutions in the enterprise space.
What factors are driving this shift? Quicker deployment + easier management + more centralized security management = lower total cost of ownership.
Compare the following real-world primary enterprise wireless deployments: One company is a global electronics manufacturer with 35 plants in multiple countries; the second is a regional retailer with 300 stores. The global manufacturing company decided to deploy a centralized controller-based solution while the regional retailer deployed an autonomous-based solution in its stores. After full deployment of each solution – 1,700 autonomous APs for the regional retailer and 1,500 lightweight APs for the global manufacturer – the effort to configure, manage, secure and support the wireless infrastructure was greater for the autonomous environment. The global manufacturer was able to maintain a two-person centralized team to manage the global controller-based environment. However, the retailer ended up hiring and redeploying several personnel to support its environment. Thus, although the upfront cost of the autonomous solution is lower, the total cost of ownership will be higher.
From a security perspective, all security is individually configured and managed in the autonomous solution, while in the controller solution all security functions are set at the controller. Even more important, wireless intrusion prevention system technology can be added seamlessly in a controller-based solution.
So even though the autonomous solution is less expensive initially, the decreased amount of time supporting, configuring, maintaining and managing APs in a controller-based environment equates to a lower total cost of ownership. Also, managing the wireless infrastructure through a "single pane of glass" is much easier in a controller-based solution.
As a side note, the regional retailer is now considering migrating to a controller-based solution.
Bob Brewer is a solution architect at Forsythe Solutions Group (www.forsythe.com).
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi