Understand Controller Architecture Options
The need to manage and coordinate multiple APs mandates that you use a central controller for anything other than the smallest deployments. As vendors have already built their Wi-Fi solutions around one or two different architectures, the controller architecture is less of an influence on purchasing than factors such as manageability and interoperability. This should not stop businesses from properly understanding the strengths and limitations of each option, however.
The most common design entails the use of a central appliance for configuring and managing multiple APs on the network. There are also vendors that incorporate controller logic inside existing network appliances, such as the WAN load-balancers from Peplink that can be used to manage the APs sold by the company. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi specialist Xirrus uses a "thin" access point strategy in which each array independently manages all on-board APs. A variant of that would be the virtual controller; here, an embedded controller within an AP manages smaller deployments of four to eight other APs.
Finally, there are cloud-based controllers managed entirely over the Internet, such as those made by Meraki. In a bid to reap the benefits of a centralized console without having to invest in a controller-based solution, startup Tanaza has built a cloud-based management solution in which standard non-cloud APs are configured online and changes are pushed out automatically.
Looking Ahead: 802.11ac Not Worth the Wait
With the 802.11ac wireless standard around the corner, the capability to upgrade to what is widely termed as "Gigabit Wi-Fi" would obviously be an appealing feature to many businesses.
It is important to remember, though, that is still under development at this point and is not expected to be completed until next year. Indeed, APs currently shipping with 802.11ac are essentially noncertified, and client devices that implement 802.11ac will likely only arrive a few months after the 5GHz standard gets rectification.
For these reasons, businesses looking to implement Wi-Fi today should just go ahead with their current plans rather than hold back and wait for technology that's at least a year away.
Paul Mah is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Singapore. Paul has worked a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. You can reach Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @paulmah.