New Solutions for New WAN and WLAN Challenges

It’s no secret that WAN and WLAN connectivity are more crucial to the enterprise than ever before. Budget, infrastructure, and manpower limitations are pushing the adoption of cloud computing for an increasing number of business applications. On the ground, meanwhile, even the smallest and most remote branch offices and retail stores now find fast, reliable Wi-Fi a must. But most organizations’ resources haven’t scaled up to meet the new pressures. Ruckus Wireless and Ipanema Technologies believe their solutions can help.

Making a Ruckus with a virtualized WLAN controller

For highly distributed enterprises, from retail chains to managed service providers (MSPs), the challenges of spinning up, scaling, and managing multiple wireless LANs can quickly spin out of control. Few organizations have the budgets to place networking staff at every single site with a wireless network to manage. Centralized, cloud-based WLAN controllers promise to help.

A number of vendors have already jumped on the cloud-based WLAN train, among them Cisco Meraki, Meru, Motorola, and Aerohive. Ruckus Wireless recently introduced its entry into the cloud Wi-Fi management arena with its Ruckus Smart Access Management Service and has now upped the ante by announcing the Ruckus virtual SmartCell Gateway (vSCG), which the vendor touted in a statement as “the industry’s first carrier-grade Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) solution” for service providers and the enterprise.

Using NFV in a WLAN controller can benefit both service providers and enterprises struggling with multitenancy and provisioning time challenges, according to Steve Hratko, Ruckus Wireless director of service provider marketing. NFV can provide lowered capex gained by moving to commodity x86 hardware, lowered opex thanks to the comparative ease of spinning up VMs instead of procuring and installing specialized hardware, faster customer and application provisioning time, and “greater service agility by not being tied to proprietary hardware,” Hratko told me.

Ruckus is marketing vSCG primarily towards its service provider customers, but the flexibility and scalability the solution offers may make it attractive to enterprises with private clouds and a demand for rapid growth in WLAN deployments. The virtualized WLAN controller works with Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi ZoneFlex access points (APs) and currently runs within either KVM or VMware vSphere environments. As far as support for other hypervisors goes, Ruckus is “considering all hypervisors, and it will depend on customer demand,” Hratko said.

In future, Ruckus will be expanding its NFV efforts with a unified virtualized infrastructure and services manager for Ruckus virtualized Wi-Fi appliances. The manager, according to a Ruckus statement, will include OpenStack support. With that, Ruckus will join Cisco and other networking vendors in integrating the open source OpenStack platform into its offerings.

Ipanema encourages WAN optimization as a service

Meanwhile, the WAN that connects all those WLANs (and that can now connect the APs in those WLANs to their cloud-based management platforms) needs help, too. Organizations are turning to the cloud for operations as diverse and as business-critical as CRM, collaboration, and Big Data analytics. These days, WAN performance must be fast and stable for businesses to function.

In such an environment, therefore, it can be surprising to find that the WAN optimization market has experienced a decline. But that’s because better solutions for application and network performance optimization have emerged, according to Jim Darragh, formerly of Riverbed, now CEO of Ipanema Technologies.

When it comes to WAN optimization appliances, Darragh observed that unit sales have remained static, indicating commoditization in the space. What’s growing, he said, is WAN optimization as a service, something that service providers like Ipanema’s customers are keen to offer. And those WAN optimization services can now encompass entire networks in order to assure performance for technologies like cloud computing.

“If I’m perfectly honest, acceleration and compression have largely been done, but it was done on a bit-by-bit basis, in 20 percent or 10 percent of your network state, for the problem children. Our competitors Riverbed and Cisco did a good job at solving those burning data center issues,” Darragh said.

That approach has become ineffective thanks to the heightened reliance on the WAN for an ever-larger number of applications and the greater need for full and reliable connectivity at even remote and branch offices. For the large or very distributed enterprise, this need can create challenges insurmountable by in-house IT staff, driving the adoption of WAN optimization services offered by the large service providers themselves. These services can take a load off of an organization’s back in a way that traditional WAN optimization approaches can’t, in Darragh’s opinion.

Ipanema isn’t the only vendor beating the drum for a more holistic approach to WAN optimization. Smaller WAN optimization vendor Exinda recently announced its new focus on “WAN orchestration.” But “it’s not a new message they’ve delivered; it’s a rehash of the message we’ve had for the last five years,” Darragh said, and simply indicative of the overall push from simple WAN acceleration to state-wide optimization.

WAN and WLAN in the retail space

One area where both WAN and WLAN demands are rising and converging is retail. Chains are adopting BYOD, adding guest Wi-Fi to their sites, and deploying new advertising, data collection, and real-time analytics technologies in-store.

“All of that, for me, is network traffic. All of it has to function, and all of it needs to be controlled,” Darragh said. Can legacy solutions meet new expectations? Vendors like Ruckus and Ipanema think not.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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