The Latest Uses of Wireless Access Points: Life-Saving or Home Decorating?

Wireless Access Points

Wireless access points are the bread and butter for most IT department, but these latest use cases are anything but. While most people use their WPA to access cat videos without an ethernet cable, Schlegel Villages is using them to save lives. This long-term care and retirement community management company is building a network of over 1,500 APs, 16 controllers, and 50 switches. These access points will “support the connection of objects such as security cameras, nurse call systems,lost equipment, and HVAC systems… that will assist in saving lives.” By using the IoT and WPAs together, they will be able to better serve their patients and increase their bandwidth to serve even more.

AP Enclosure that's a decoration?Another notable use case for APs this week is interior decorating. Access Networks unveiled their newest “Wi-Fi Access Point Enclosure” that has a paintable magnetic cover to “suit a home’s decor.” No more unsightly hardware distracting guests or ruining the Fung Shui of a dining room, simply use the AP Enclosure to resolve all your decorating woes. Need a new family portrait? Simply commission your local Etsy artist to paint the latest magnetic exterior with your likeness. While there are some functional aspects to the enclosure, the main selling point is clearly to forget where your WPA is all together. Or make it the focal point of your next dinner party.

While you’re considering how to bedazzle your router, check out this week’s vBlog all about WPAs. In last week’s vBlog, Dan Goodman described how to choose between autonomous and lightweight access points. This week, he outlines the 3 types of WPAs on the market. Cloud-based is definitely a hot topic these days, so learn all about them in this short video!


For more information on cloud-based access points, check out our “Buyer’s Guide to Wireless Access Points.” Within this guide, we’ve included: overviews of each Wireless Access Point Architecture, pros and cons to consider, and question sheets to make sure you choose the best option for your organization.

Wireless Access Points Guide

Transcript from video content:

Hey, folks. We just wanted to take a couple of minutes to go ahead and discuss the three ways you have of managing your access points: the autonomous architecture, the cloud-based architecture, and the Split-MAC architecture. All right, take care…

No, I’m just kidding. Of course we’re going to talk about the three methods and their implications.

The first one is primarily going to be intended for those smaller organizations. That phrase definitely has an asterisk associated with it, because when we think about an autonomous architecture, we’re typically thinking of a very small deployment, maybe only onesy, twosy access points. There’s really no need to have a centralized architecture if we’ve only got one or two access points. That’s really one of the key implications you want to keep in mind for the autonomous architecture.

If you have a relatively small environment, maybe not a lot of heavy-duty usage on your wireless network, if you’re just talking about dropping in an access point so people can connect to it while they’re waiting for their coffee, the autonomous architecture is going to be perfect for that. It is very budget-friendly. These autonomous access points are considered extensions of your switch network. They are fully-functioning devices. They are self-contained. They even have the ability to connect your SSIDs to your VLANs.

Don’t let this graphic confuse you. Don’t let it fool you, because you can have an autonomous architecture that has hundreds if not thousands of access points. But the other implication you want to keep in mind with the autonomous architecture is that you lack any centralized control. If you’ve heard the cliché, “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the brew,” or the batch or whatever the heck it is they’re cooking, that’s what you’re going to run into with these autonomous access points. They are fully self-contained. They are going to do their own thing. There’s no coordination with their radio settings. We could actually have these autonomous access points bouncing up against each other, which is definitely a situation we don’t want. But if we’ve only got one or two of them, heck, even five of them, the autonomous architecture can be a perfect scenario for managing your access points. That term is used somewhat loosely. You can manage them, you just have to manage them individually.

The second option you have for managing your access points is to utilize a cloud-based architecture. There are a wide variety of vendors that are now providing this solution. Perhaps one of the more popular ones is the Cisco Meraki devices. That’s primarily what we would focus on here, is looking at that cloud-based architecture where all of the managerial functions are available to you in the cloud. You know, those mythical things that are always floating above our heads, spying on us. No, this is actually a good cloud. I like to think that this scenario is extremely useful for administrators who are maybe volunteering for a non-profit organization, the CIO who may not be able to be there on a daily basis but they still want to provide some sort of architecture that they could manage remotely. That’s really where the cloud-based architecture proves its worth.

There are many other scenarios where this can be an extremely useful option. The key thing that you want to keep in mind with this particular architecture is, for lack of a better term, it’s kind of a hybrid between the autonomous architecture and also the Split-MAC architecture. The autonomous side of it comes from the access points themselves. I can’t speak for any other vendors, but when it comes to like the Cisco Meraki devices, those are very much considered autonomous access points. Yes, they are connected up to the cloud, but as far as the device itself, it is fully-functioning, a self-contained device that you can log into individually and make settings there.

The reason I call it a hybrid is from the cloud dashboard you can actually manage all of your access points, and that’s something that’s simply not available with a traditional autonomous architecture. You have to go into each device individually to change its settings. With this you also get the ability to coordinate your access points, which is something that leads itself more towards the Split-MAC architecture where you could look at two or three access points, look at their radio settings, and adjust them as needed, and they’ll all work in unison with each other.

When you’re talking about a large-scale deployment, you’re going to want to consider that Split-MAC architecture. It’s somewhat of a confusing way to describe this particular management technique, because you think, “Split-MAC? What the heck are we talking about MAC addresses for?” What the Split-MAC architecture essentially means is that we divide up the management process into two separate streams of data. What I mean by that is in the Split-MAC architecture you’re going to have a wireless LAN controller that is going to be the orchestrator of all of the access points. All of the access points are going to get its configurations from that controller. That controller has the ability to see all of your access points and coordinate them appropriately.

The other stream is going to come from the actual real-time data, the actual wireless connectivity. That entire data process is going to be handled by the access points themselves. While your wireless clients are connecting to the web and doing work like watching Netflix and checking out their Facebook, that is going to be entirely maintained by the access point. But as far as the managerial traffic, the frame information, security settings, reporting for the radio resource manager, all that is going to be managed via a separate data stream back to the controller.

The key implication with this particular type of architecture is of course cost, but that cost does have its advantages. What I mean by cost is lots of access points, dedicated controllers. If we want to have some sort of disaster recovery, that’s going to include a backup controller. If we’ve got multiple locations, that includes multiple controllers. It is somewhat more expensive, but on the back end you have reduced overhead costs. Since you are centralizing everything, you don’t have to drive out to a separate location to fix an access point, to change its radio settings. You don’t have to log into a separate interface to maintain the security configurations. You can divvy that all out from the centralized location of the controller.

Before we had that cloud architecture, this was the de facto standard, but now more and more organizations are actually looking at, “Okay, I’ve actually got three options. I could look at the autonomous architecture, a cloud-based architecture, Split-MAC architecture.” Pros and cons to all three of them, just like we find anywhere else in life. You really, really need to look at it from a design perspective, which of course includes budget, to decide which one’s going to be best for your own organizational requirements.

That’s all we’ve got, guys. Take care.