Industrial vs. Consumer Grade Access Points

Back in January, we had a brief discussion about ruggedized versus consumer grade Mobile Devices. Shortly after that, I was making customer calls with one of Wavelink’s Platinum Reseller Partners, and an IT manager at a large multi-national retailer told me he was considering purchasing Consumer Grade APs for several of his new store roll outs in the coming year. His motive was to save money by purchasing the lower cost access points and wanted to know if he could still manage the APs with Avalanche.

There is a fair amount of unbiased material available on the web that compares the various features and benefits of Industrial or Enterprise grade APs vs. Consumer grade APs, such as the Best Practices article from BizTech Magazine or this recent Wavelink Technology Tidbit. What I wanted to do here was share my answer to his question about AP management.

Unfortunately I had to tell him that Avalanche would be unable to manage the consumer grade APs, but let’s not throw Avalanche under the bus too fast. The problem is not with Avalanche. Consumer grade APs typically only offer a very limited HTML based user interface for configuration. They do not support Telnet, SNMP or their more secure siblings SSH and SNMP v3. These protocols are the foundation for any full featured management tool, Avalanche included.

Without these text-based command line protocols, the network administrator must log in to each AP individually with a browser and navigate the menus and options with a mouse and keyboard. There have been a few management tools out there (including Wavelink Mobile Manager early on) which did manage via HTML, but the extent of the support would be very limited, and the UI of the consumer grade APs is not really meant to support automated communications. Text based command line protocols allow a management system such as Avalanche to issue secure commands to multiple APs at regular intervals to verify the wireless policies are up to date, and check the health and status of each AP.

Avalanche’s AP management support is based on the use of profiles to initially configure new APs, update AP firmware as needed, and then monitor and report on AP status and health, and even generate an SNMP and/or Email alert when an AP is down or needs attention. For an individual store, with a qualified local administrator, this is probably not a big deal to support 2 or 3 consumer grade access points. Multiply this by 20, 50 or 100 stores however, and spread them geographically over hundreds or thousands of miles, and now you are talking about dedicating a full-time resource just to manage your APs. I think this supports the case that the lower cost hardware does not necessarily add up to the lower cost solution.

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