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Is Cloud-defined WiFi the future of WiFi?

December 28, 2014

Cloud Defined WiFi

Wi-Fi, being cost-effective and efficient, is increasingly becoming a key mobility enabler all across the world, and therefore, recently, businesses, small or large, are looking to deploy Wi-Fi infrastructure for various reasons varying from promoting business, enhancing customer experience, increasing customer engagement to boosting operational efficiency.

But, owning and planning a Wi-Fi solution could take considerable time and capital expenditure. Further, the management of Wi-Fi infrastructure solution can also add considerably to the operational business expenditure. Moreover, a budget constrained Wi-Fi infrastructure/deployment might have performance, reliability and scalability issues, further, it might lack advance capabilities such as business analytics, advanced troubleshooting capabilities etc., thereby potentially making it difficult to realize the perceived business goals from the planned Wi-Fi deployment.

The Cloud Advantage to a Wi-Fi network

Cloud computing is increasingly gaining a lot of traction for a lot of business applications, such as storage, emails, backups, planning, accounting etc., and therefore, number of Wi-Fi infrastructure vendors have also started looking towards cloud architecture from Wi-Fi perspective in order to launch Wi-Fi infrastructure solutions as cloud based services. Few Wi-Fi vendors have already released their cloud oriented Wi-Fi services and are in the process of upgrading the same to the next level, while many other vendors have their cloud based Wi-Fi services in the pipeline. Cloud defined Wi-Fi solutions can be based on either private or public cloud models, and many of these solutions equally claim for scalability, reliability, performance, ease of provisioning, resilience  and cost efficiency.  But, at the same time, these cloud based Wi-Fi services from various vendors can greatly differ in the kind of Wi-Fi monitoring, business analytics, reporting, integration capabilities, troubleshooting, policy enforcement, radio resource managements, threat detection and prevention, and other add-on services they provide.

Central to a Cloud Defined WiFi Network

So what all it takes to setup a cloud defined Wi-Fi network, the answer basically points to two important software components, a remote agent running on the Wi-Fi Access Point hardware being deployed at the desired location for Wi-Fi access, and another, a centralized server/manager running in the desired data center.

Once an Access Point is powered up and running, the remote agent connects the former over Internet to desired server/gateway (running in the cloud) either using a static or a dynamic discovery protocol. On pairing up, the server pushes the desired Wi-Fi configuration to the remote agent, which in turn, applies the same on the Access Point hardware to start the Wi-Fi access at the Access Point location. After the, the remote agent can be configured to collect various Wi-Fi statistics, which can either be pushed by the agent towards the server, or the server can pull the same at required intervals.

The centralized Wi-Fi server running in the cloud can also asynchronously push certain commands to the remote agent of the paired up Access Point to perform specific actions related to add-on features which the underlying cloud Wi-Fi solution provides.

Customers usually get a web handle (certain URL) accessible over Internet after deploying a cloud Wi-Fi solution via which they can get access to graphical user interface  (GUI) to see/monitor the details of their cloud based Wi-Fi deployment. Generally, the same GUI also provides links to various add on services which are bundled with the cloud Wi-Fi solution. Instead of a web handle, few cloud based Wi-Fi solutions can also ask customers to install a dedicated proprietary software agent on their machines to get an access to a comprehensive GUI for their Wi-Fi deployment. 

What about the data path in a Cloud defined Wi-Fi network?

Generally, for a true cloud Wi-Fi solution (hosted on public clouds that are owned and operated by third-party service providers), Wi-Fi users’ data is locally breaked out from a cloud managed Wi-Fi Access Point. But, for Wi-Fi networks that are operated over a private cloud managed and owned by the Wi-Fi vendor himself, there is an option to tunnel the Wi-Fi users’ data (whole or selectively) into the cloud, and then bridge the data from the cloud to desired destination. With user’s data terminating into the cloud, the vendor can therefore provide additional end users centric services, such as VPN, QoS, etc. Since, telecom and cable operators already owns big data centers for handling/managing wireless users.

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