Cisco CMX presentation at #WFD8

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a couple of conferences, meetings, and one-on-one discussions concerning the state of controllers in the Wireless LAN industry.

We all remember our own Devin Akin forcefully telling the world that “Controllerless” is in everyone’s future… perhaps that was a bit prophetic… but just not in the same way he might have anticipated.

There is still the need for a Control Plane, a Management Plane and a Data Plane to move 802.11 frames on and off a wired network. But the question is which of the many solutions will be the one that works best for your organizational needs!

With Cisco’s presentation on their new Cisco Mobility Express at Wireless Tech Field Day #8 – we are starting to see where the different vendors are going with their ‘control plane’ issues.

You can watch all the Cisco presentations here:

Here’s one of the videos to give you an idea

You can get the details of Cisco’s offering from their blog here: as well as their official brochure here:

But I wanted to think through some of the implications of moving to these simpler, less-complex, solutions. Sure, they are fast, and easy to setup and configure. Watch the demo video presentation on the Tech Field Day site… you’ll see just how easy it can be. But some in our industry think we as Wireless LAN Engineers need to have more knowledge and skills before merely throwing up AP’s and calling it good. Yes, we did get an answer about CMX that many of the advanced features are available via CLI – the ‘nerd knobs’ are there for skilled and experienced engineers to tweak and tune the Wireless LAN to our heart’s content.

Yet I can’t help but wonder if these new simpler techniques, like Aruba’s Instant, Meraki’s Cloud, and Aerohive’s Co-operative control will lead to better, or worse Wireless LAN implementations overall. One of the benefits of a full-on controller solution was the expertise and skills needed to design, configure and implement a solution. This system also allowed for a very simple wired network design, all the AP’s could just be Access Ports and all the ‘fancy’ VLAN bits were handled on the other side of the tunnel from the AP to the Controller. Centralized forwarding helped make simpler demands on your wired infrastructure.

With the advent of ‘controller-less’ – and by that I mean no big controller box at the center of the Wireless LAN using centralized forwarding – we now need to design our switch fabrics with a bit more complexity. Not unduly difficult, but an extra step none-the-less. Much of my WLAN troubleshooting over the past 15 years has been to troubleshoot VLAN mistakes at a much higher rate than troubleshooting actual Wi-Fi issues. I fear this will only be aggravated by more and more ‘simpler’ Wi-Fi installations.

I wouldn’t even want to speculate where the control plane will be in the future – within a protocol, assigned to an individual AP with backup AP’s waiting in the wings, out in the cloud, or perhaps some other solution we haven’t thought of yet. But in the mean time, it is good to see we are seeing all enterprise Wi-Fi vendors moving toward options. Options that allow solutions to better fit enterprise needs. This is a good thing.