Ease of provisioning, ready scalability, and a simpler user interface are making cloud-managed Wi-Fi a growing part of the WLAN scene—and opening up opportunities for VARs, MSPs, and other IT providers.
Major selling points of moving WLAN to the cloud include reduced capital costs compared with hardware-based systems and centralization of WLAN management through a browser-based dashboard. This makes adding wireless access points (WAPs) much easier, and they better accommodate the ever-fluctuating numbers of notebooks, smartphones, and tablets that are part of today’s BYOD environment.
Globally, the WLAN market for cloud-managed Wi-Fi presents significant opportunities in both hardware and services, according to new research from International Data Corp. (IDC), which projects that worldwide cloud-managed infrastructure and managed services revenue will reach $653 million in 2014 and $2.5 billion by 2018.
Recently, increased adoption in midmarket and distributed enterprise organizations, including retail and K–12 education, has fueled cloud-managed Wi-Fi growth. But at the same time, "Enterprises are seeing the big picture, and [are] definitely considering cloud-managed Wi-Fi for their remote sites when upgrading their networks," saya Rohit Mehra, IDC vice president, network infrastructure. “Cloud-managed Wi-Fi, with its central manageability, smaller physical footprint, and linear scalability, is a viable option for these enterprises.”
Cloud-based solutions have gained traction with price-sensitive organizations that maintain little or nothing in the way of in-house technical services or IT staff, according to Salah Nassar, senior manager of enterprise product marketing at Ruckus Wireless Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based supplier of advanced wireless systems for the mobile Internet infrastructure market. And with its low up-front capital expense, ease of use, subscription-based price models, and scalability, “Cloud-managed Wi-Fi is designed for this type of customer,” he says.
Prime prospects for cloud-managed Wi-Fi include educational institutions, retail chains, and any organization with multiple locations, according to Perry Ha, CEO and chairman at Relay2 Inc., a developer and manufacturer of cloud controller-based WLAN systems in Milpitas, Calif.
Poor candidates are organizations that resist moving data to the cloud, “which can include any kind of financial institution, or even some Fortune 1000 types of businesses,” says Ha, adding, “but I think it is just a matter of time before all this resistance will go melting away.”
Going forward, SMBs that deploy cloud-managed Wi-Fi are likely to need a variety of services from channel partners. The simplicity of cloud-managed Wi-Fi is limited to the user interface, according to Nassar. “And when organizations begin to deploy more than one or two WAPs, require multiple SSIDs (possibly mapped to different VLANs), or implement a security policy tied to compliance regulations, they will need to reach out to local professionals,” he says.
The need for higher-performance WAPs will also create even more opportunities for VARs, MSPs, and other IT pros, according to Ha. Just enabling network access is one thing. “But, if an SMB does things like videoconferencing and VoIP, for example—and they have 3,250 people [who] want to be on the WLAN doing all these applications at once—they will need high-performance APs,” he says, “which in turn will allow service providers to layer additional services on top.”