What's the difference between SMB and enterprise-class WLANs?


And what are the other considerations that I need to factor in before I buy?

Topic: Networking
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2 total
Craig Mathias
Vote Up (31)

This is a great question motivated by the fact that both types of WLAN products use the same technologies and often the same chipsets. Airlink performance differentials are often quite small. But enterprise-class products are the way to go in most business environments for a few very good reasons:


Management: The functionality of the WLAN's management console is critical to success. Management includes planning, setup/installation/configuration, ongoing monitoring, alerts and alarms (and remediation as required, and ideally automatically wherever possible), reporting, compliance verification, and many, many other functions. In fact, management (OK, along with system architecture) is often the key differentiator between enterprise-class products. Management must be centralized, but accessible from many different locations. In general, SMB management products lack the range and sophistication of those in the enterprise class, although there are some indications that this could change as cloud-based management solution become more common.


Capacity: It's not just about throughput - in fact, it's rarely about throughput. It's instead about capacity, the ability to handle a large, growing, moving, and diverse set of users and their equally large and growing set of applications. Most SMB products cannot deal with enterprise-class loads; they lack good load-balancing and other techniques to manage performance in real time.


Scale: And enterprise-class systems can grow, non-disruptively, to very large proportions - tens of thousands of APs in a single system (across multiple buildings and large - even global - geographic areas, of course) are not uncommon today. Farpoint Group in general defines an enterprise-class system as one capable of supporting a minimum of 250 access points distributed arbitrarily. SMB products are not designed to be deployed like this and are usually not appropriate when size matters.


And, of course, these product classes are sold through different channels, with SMB products available at many electronics retail stores and via catalogs, and enterprise-class products sold via the RFP process. I do expect the gap to begin to narrow here of the next few years, as the faster/better/cheaper of high tech results in systems capable of growing to very large proportions readily and inexpensively available. The key will be moving the management functions into the cloud and offering them as a service, a trend that, again, is just now beginning to emerge.

Vote Up (21)

Hi Jack45,

Here's an interesting white paper that covers distinctions between SMB and enterprise requirements:



"IDC research indicates that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and large
enterprises have different overall IT infrastructure characteristics, budgets, and
staffing requirements when it comes to backup, retention, and recovery. Although the
distinctions between SMB and large enterprise accounts with regard to technical
requirements and features/functions are beginning to blur, some important differences
still exist.

This paper segments the differences in requirements and characteristics
among firms of differing sizes when it comes to how they manage their data and the
types of features and solutions they look for from suppliers. Symantec Corporation,
the market leader in the data protection and recovery market and a top-tier supplier in
the archiving market, serves small to large enterprise accounts with its solutions. This
paper looks at how Symantec's breadth of offerings satisfies customer requirements,
from the SMB firm to the largest enterprise firm. "

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