Cloud-managed Wi-Fi is wireless LAN technology built specifically to be managed through a cloud-based management platform. A cloud-managed wireless network comprises a cloud-managed wireless router or routers and/or a set of cloud-managed wireless access points.
Cloud-managed Wi-Fi APs almost always support the Wi-Fi 6 standard for most IT-related connectivity needs, such as connecting computers and mobile devices to enterprise services and the internet. Some cloud-managed Wi-Fi APs also support IoT-focused standards, such as Zigbee or Bluetooth. Wi-Fi 6E APs, which support the 6 GHz frequency band, are also starting to appear.
With a cloud-managed WLAN, network managers can use a single set of policies to manage networks in many locations. Even with many branches with location-specific policies, network managers would have only one WLAN to manage.
For example, a factory location may have extra service set identifiers and security around industrial IoT networks. These policies wouldn't be applied or propagated to other types of locations, even though they are all managed in the envelope of a unified enterprise WLAN.
Benefits of cloud-managed Wi-Fi
The potential benefits of a cloud-managed Wi-Fi network include the following:
Consistent configurations and connections.
With cloud-managed Wi-Fi, organizations can reduce the risk of service problems that arise from the inconsistent configuration of APs in different locations.
IT organizations managing multisite WLANs often struggle to implement their intended architectures consistently across locations. As a result, staff moving to or temporarily working at a different location, for example, can have problems connecting to Wi-Fi in their new location. They may have trouble doing their work.
Organizations can reduce the risk of security problems that occur from the incomplete or inconsistent configuration of APs in different locations. Failure to fully implement security policies for the WLAN in a location or mistakes in implementing policies in a location can create security holes. This leaves the organization at greater risk for data theft, data privacy violations, ransomware infection and more.
Better reliability and availability.
Organizations can reduce the risk of service interruptions that stem from management platform crashes or under-provisioning.
Fewer costs and headaches.
Organizations can cut costs and the workload for IT by outsourcing the infrastructure for a management platform, the operation and maintenance of that infrastructure, and the maintenance of the management platform itself. IT organizations must architect for high availability or accept the risks of the service being unavailable at some critical juncture. That means implementing the platform in multiple locations.
All that architecture, provisioning and operations can be outsourced. Network teams instead need only select service providers whose architecture and operations meet the organization's security and resilience requirements.
Not outsourcing the WLAN
The fact that the management platform for the enterprise WLAN is not in-sourced does not imply that management is outsourced.
Certainly, an MSP can easily use cloud-managed WLAN infrastructure to deliver WLAN connectivity instead of working through an on-premises management console, either in-person or remotely. In fact, cloud management should ease an MSP's work and reduce the need to make site visits.
On the other hand, in-house networking teams can switch to cloud management just as easily. By doing so, they reduce the management effort that comes from outsourcing WLAN management to an MSP. This provides the organization with a level of network control.
However, network teams do relinquish some control, as does anyone using cloud infrastructure instead of on-premises resources. For example, IT has no input into how its WLAN management console is resourced, where its primary resources are, or where backup and continuity infrastructure is located -- assuming it has some.
IT only has as much control over whether and when the management software will be updated as the vendor chooses to provide. Still, IT retains control over policies and policy management and does not add a third party to those trusted with access to policy management.