Virtualization of WLAN Infrastructure



These days it seems as though every product or application on the network has been transitioned to a virtual only offering except for the network itself. Whether they live in a virtualized private or public data center, gone are the days of purposely built “appliances”. I first noticed this happening in the VOIP world a couple of years ago, and now we are seeing it in the wireless world. From the wireless controllers, to the services engines, and management suites, all have ditched the costly standalone appliances, and moved to a virtual platform.

I think this makes alot of sense as owners will not have to purchase or manage many different appliances, service contracts, or the network infrastructure to connect all of these different appliances. They can now co-res them all on a single rack server, or blade server environment and you no longer need (8) standalone appliances for a redundant VOIP solution, or a secure wireless solution. Software upgrades will no longer need to be bundled with a new appliance that can support it, or in a large after hours outage window, you can just add more cores / memory / storage at it through your hypervisor, and depending on your virtual environment, the redundancy / resiliency features are a no brainer.

I think centralized wireless controllers have had their day, as they are the most costly piece of the WLAN pie, and are struggling to keep up with user bandwidth demands. Meraki sure does tell a good story when it comes to the costly redundant controllers and overlay software at each site, as they have built out their own private data centers with virtual controllers that can scale as customer needs grow. Bandwidth requirements are really starting to become a factor with centralized switching, and I predict we will see more and more networks better dropping off the wireless traffic at the network edge and locally switching in the AP rather than tunneling it back to a centralized controller to be dropped on a vlan. I am looking forward to learning more about Meraki and their cloud controller solution as I was very impressed while attending a recent webcast on their solutions.

One thing for sure is that Cisco and other networking players have invested heavily in Mobility / Wireless recently, with Cisco acquiring Meraki, ThinkSmart, and Intucell as they try to keep up with smaller more agile startups, and this surely is an exciting time to be in the wireless arena as the bottlenecks and incompatabilities between WiFi and Cellular begin to work themselves out. Coverage cells will become smarter, and faster, adapting to user needs. The 802.11U standard will soon change the wireless and mobility world as we know it today as more and more phones will begin to support these new technologies.


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