Cisco Wireless Review

Clean Air Solution can detect non-WiFi signals, change channel to avoid unwanted signals

What is our primary use case?

Primary use is for connecting staff and students' laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks.

How has it helped my organization?

Most of wireless controllers' features are similar, but what sets WLC, the Cisco wireless controller, apart is that it has an end-to-end solution, meaning that it's running off of Cisco switches, and a Cisco router. So all the platform, from routing to switching, is Cisco. Therefore, having a wireless controller, we can actually manage the quality of service seamlessly.

If we had chosen another product then it may not understand, or we may have to make it jump through hoops, to make it more seamless. Since across the platform, Cisco has an end-to-end solution, that sets it apart from the other vendors.

As far as the technology, pretty much everybody offers almost the same thing. It's just that they name it differently. Other than that they're the same. So the above is the reason we went with the Cisco. 

Also, because I'm Cisco Certified as far routing, switching, etc., I understand their technology. So on top of it, that also helps. I don't have to actually reinvent the wheel to make it work. So it's a  cost savings for the company, because they already hired somebody who understands Cisco products. It's a combination of those things, so we chose the Cisco wireless controller.

What is most valuable?

This product has a Clean Air Solution, which means it can detect non-WiFi signals. It not only signals but it can also detect that what type of device it is coming from. And if it needs to change the channel in order to avoid that unwanted signal, it can do so and that way the client machine will have better performance.

Also, we have also a test environment. Cisco offers a smaller version, between 25 and 50 access point controllers. It's $2000, very inexpensive. I have it in my test environment so I can do tests before I actually implement in production. That helps.

What needs improvement?

If needs to provide more visibility. It can detect and do it, but as technicians we don't have a lot of visibility into seeing exactly what's happening. It doesn't give us a lot of log information for us to troubleshoot. They probably have additional software you need to purchase to get that kind of information. But I think not all companies can afford additional software to see those kinds of details. So if the wireless controller already had, built-in, those types of things for the technician or wireless engineer, it would be more attractive for the end-user to use WLC, more than any other product.

For how long have I used the solution?

More than five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It's very, very stable. We have hardly ever had any problems with it as far rebooting itself, or it couldn't handle the load it had, given how we initially we sized it. It hasn't caused any problems.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We've had no issues with scalability. We initially started with two controllers; as far as a failover we used technology called N+1. But N+1 did not suit our environment because we have about 750 access points throughout the campus. E1 access point can only hold 500. If that ever happened, it would mean another 250 would be hanging out there. So we changed that to 1:1. We now have four controllers. Now we're able to handle up to 1,000 access points. So scalability wasn't a problem. And, if we have to have more we could still do it. So scalability is very seamless.

How are customer service and technical support?

I would give an A+ to tech support. It depends what kind of issue you have, they have different categories. They can remote in to view our screen and see what the problem is and can give us a recommendation and then we change it, if we think it's necessary. If it would be helpful for us then we do it, during off hours.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

I have always used Cisco. I have friends and colleagues who have used Aruba and other things. As I mentioned earlier, they're very similar as far the access points go. They have a similar technology, Clean Air, etc., they have it. 

The only problem is, as I mentioned, they are not using Aruba switches or routers, etc. So when an issue arises they have to finger-point to a different vendor. So I try to avoid that kind of different vendor finger-pointing. If I can have the same vendor solution and it's stable and works well, why not use them that way. If there's any problem, it is one vendor, there is no finger-pointing.

How was the initial setup?

it's not really complex. If you're familiar with the technology you should be able to follow through with any of the wireless controllers or Cisco's. They're very intuitive. If you know the terminology you just have to follow through.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

As far as I know Cisco is very competitive, price-wise.

Talk to your third-party vendor. It all depends on the company size - how many employees, how big the building is. If it's wireless, and you have only 50 employees but you're using a large building floor, in that case you need many access points. But if you have 50 employees using two or three rooms, then you probably don't need it and it's going to be high density, so there is a different design. So you need to talk to a subject matter expert. Talk to them and design accordingly.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

When I joined this company they already had a modular for 6509 switches. So from there I migrated to a 5508 Controller. So at the time it was much easier, since the company was already are using a Cisco wireless controller. It would have been much easier for migration to the 5508. 

We did talk to Aruba about their solution and, I think, price-wise it was very similar and that's the reason we stayed with Cisco.

What other advice do I have?

I rate this Cisco solution an eight out of 10. To bring it up to a 10, as I mentioned earlier, you have to get a Cisco Prime in order to view  signal strength and what's going on, which is an additional cost. You have to buy another product to manage WLC, so why not have Cisco Prime built into WLC so there is one product? That way you wouldn't need to have to buy additional software or licenses to manage WLC. It's basically: WLC manages access points, Prime manages WLC. So why not all under one umbrella, that way you don't have to jump through multiple pages to look and troubleshoot. If all is in one place it would be much easier.

If it's the first time you're implementing it, there is a different way of doing it. Now, I think, Cisco offers a different type of a wireless controller. It can be cloud-based, it can be on a switch module, or it can be just an appliance. So it's based on what your environment looks like and what kind of failover you want. Based on your needs, that's how you have to design. 

Also, look into other products and evaluate them yourself. Have a demo on your site for Aruba or Cisco and see, regarding the high density, how many clients are connecting to one access point and where the breakpoint is, those kinds of things. Evaluate yourself and go with whatever makes sense for your company.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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