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Wireless LAN Controller in the Private Cloud

wlancontroller_rsserieWhether it’s the residential sector or comprehensive installations within offices, to highly sophisticated applications and even beyond, by now wireless networks can be found in almost all market segments. Wireless LAN has become far more than a mere network to supply wireless Internet connectivity. The technology is now part of a business processes. Due to the large variety of applications, it is hard to mention all of them. Nevertheless, these are the most common applications. The wireless Internet access and e-mail connection are the most common applications for sure. Some companies have even stopped using LAN cabling to a great extent. Retailers often use mobile cash registers connected via wireless LAN. Logistic companies, as well as retailers, register incoming and outgoing goods by wireless barcode scanners. And while we are on the subject of retailers and logistic companies, they nearly always have several locations and hence they are chain stores.

Today’s wireless LAN networks have become increasingly available throughout the entire company infrastructure. Therefore a variety of access points are required for a seamless network and of course, for a central management and monitoring of sometimes numerous access points, wireless LAN controllers are used.

Wireless LAN controller for chain stores and branch offices: Centralized management

We will now describe the suitability of wireless LAN controllers for chain stores in order to facilitate the monitoring and configuration of wireless LAN networks in different branches. Thus the central management and monitoring of all access points in all branches should be prioritized.

Working via a WAN connection a wireless LAN controller in remote operation, secured via a VPN tunnel, has some specific characteristics.

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In the graph above the wireless LAN controller located at the central site communicates via a secured VPN connection to numerous access points which are located in several branches.

These access points in the graph above are fat access points. Basically the wireless LAN controller centralizes configuration and monitoring. It is advantageous to process the user data in the various branches locally in order to limit the data volume transferred via the WAN connection secured by VPN. This is the case in many applications. Initially, as a fail-safe operation, a supermarket chain for example, usually processes on site and hence decentralizes the data of the supermarket checkouts and wireless barcode scanners. Only in the evening at closing time data synchronization takes place between the branches and the Head Office.

Wireless LAN controller solutions for remote operations

A further problem which occurs with the remote operation of a wireless LAN controller, is the availability of a WAN connection secured via VPN. Naturally a VPN connection cannot guarantee a hundred percent availability. Even managed VPN services only assure an availability that ranges between 95 and 98 percent. After all this could mean a failure of several days a year.

Hence, it can be said that, only wireless LAN controller solutions that are especially designed for remote operations are suitable for this type of scenario. This includes:

  • Traffic limitation between access points and the wireless LAN controller.
  • Self-sufficient operation of access points that can run for a specific period of time without being connected to the wireless LAN controller.
  • Users should make sure that the data can be processed locally in order to bridge downtimes of the VPN connections.

Bintec WLAN products can deliver a simple and powerful platform that solves common problems such as reliability, security and local/remote management of the whole WLAN network across the WAN and individual Access Points. Total integration with Teldat or bintec-elmeg routers and management platforms is indeed a strong added value for those customers who already have a significant installed base of these devices. Moreover, it is also a great added value for those who plan to deploy a large number of branch office infrastructure and need a complete network solution for wired and wireless connectivity.

NFV and SDN. Dumb routers for smart networks?

https://www.teldat.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/177402640.jpgNFV (Network Functions Virtualization) is a new network architecture that proposes to extend the virtualization technology used in the traditional IT environment to the different network elements, to create more flexible networks and services, easier to deploy and operate, for a reduced cost. While RAID and virtualization meant a revolution on the storage technology and on the computing and operating systems technologies respectively, SDN and NFV propose an equivalent transformation on the communications networks. Cloud Computing would not have been possible without the former technologies and SDN and NFV, in turn, rely on Cloud Computing technologies to deliver their promise.

SDN (Software Defined Networking) is also an emerging network architecture that centralizes the view and control of the network, separating the forwarding decisions (control plane) from the network elements that in fact forward the packets of information (data plane), moving, in this way, the intelligence to the “center” of the network from the previously remotely distributed networks elements, like switches or routers.

SDN and NFV can exist independently of each other, but they are, in fact, complementary technologies that reinforce themselves when used simultaneously.

The interest of network operators in NFV technology

NFV is being pushed and promoted mainly by network operators, in the fight with the “Over-the-Top” service providers, which use network operators’ networks as “dumb pipes” to offer value added services and applications to the end users. With NFV, network operators seek to reduce the time to market of new services generation and provisioning, lower the required investment (CAPEX) and the operating and maintenance cost (OPEX) and expedite the innovation by favoring open-source initiatives.

NFV (and SDN) can theoretically be applied to any network element, network part, or function. For instance, it could be applied to the Mobile Core Network of a mobile operator or to the load balancer gear of a data center.

In more or less degree, part of the functionality of these network elements is subject to be virtualized and offered, for a lower cost, in a central location, using traditional low-cost COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) servers running open-source based software, instead of proprietary hardware and software from established vendors. Or at least this is what many network operators are chasing, promoting and starting to test or even trial in the real world.

But, how does all this apply to the enterprise branch office access router, that is the main network element or “function” that Teldat provides? Does this specific network element have any peculiarity or characteristic that could influence or condition the way it can benefit from the NFV and SDN technologies?

Does it make sense to virtualize the access router?

A rigorous analysis falls out of the scope of this post and one will find both advantages and disadvantages when virtualizing a network element such as the access router or CPE. But regardless of the amount of functionality that might be virtualized, let us first say that we see tough to create “smarter networks” by using “dumber routers”. This does not mean that NFV does not apply to the enterprise branch office access router, but that from all the potential benefits of the NFV and SDN technologies, the CAPEX reduction is probably the less interesting one, or in other words, the toughest to obtain.

Some market initiatives, like the HGI (Home Gateway Initiative), founded in 2004, promote a model that increases the functionality of the CPE by embedding on it a “Software Execution Environment”, able to locally execute several applications or functions. This is the opposite of the NFV model regarding where to put the “intelligence”. Both architectures will probably coexist in the foreseeable future, since both have advantages and drawbacks depending on the specific use case.

The “last mile”: A challenge for NFV  application

SDN benefits are rarely questioned on the datacenter and specifically on the datacenter switches. Nevertheless, the access network and in particular the “last mile” is a much more heterogeneous environment and the bandwidth, in roughly all the cases, cannot be considered “unlimited”, as you could “model” in a Terabit/s datacenter infrastructure. Clearly this has strong implications on the NFV possibilities for a CPE.

The more complex the network element or function, the more potential NFV has to introduce benefits for the network operator. But also, the more heterogeneous the network element environment, the more complicated is to provide an equivalent “homogeneous” virtualized scenario. The last mile is a quite complex element, with non-trivial requirements such as security, quality of service, redundancy and resilience, different media adaptation, etc. On the other side, the last mile is also a quite heterogeneous scenario, especially for integrated or converged network operators that offer a broad range of access technologies.

Interoperability issues

Before a widespread adoption of SDN and NFV can occur, a crucial issue must be solved: Interoperability must be guaranteed, so that network operators do not find themselves locked into a specific vendor solution. Carriers should be warned by their experience in the GPON world with the OMCI “proprietary” management, just one fraction of the complexity NFV can imply. The open-source oriented path the network operators are proposing can be very beneficial for them, but it will not solve this interoperability problem per-se and an “integrator” figure is needed. And “integrator” or “vendor” in this regard is pretty much the same thing.

Smart routers that suit any challenge

At Teldat we follow the SDN and NFV trends with interest and we think they will definitely change the networks for good. Being a vendor that focuses on the customer premises side of the communications, we have always needed to interoperate with the network and use and promote the use of standard-based communications. Our coming devices and many of the existing ones are future proof and SDN/NFV-ready. We do this by designing smarter devices that can create smarter networks. Although some network functions can be virtualized, the enterprise branch office network in the cloud-computing era is complex enough to benefit from a powerful future-proof access router.

Router and Server for onsite applications

routers and servers for branch offices   It is quite obvious to say that corporate communications have evolved. Not so long ago, a few decades ago, “dumb” terminals were connected to a mainframe. A significant evolution followed with the introduction of X25, Frame Relay and ISDN. We could say it had the same level of importance to corporate communications, as the discovery of fire had within prehistoric man. However, more recently, IP networks then totally changed the communication landscape again. So much so, that this could be compared to the invention of the wheel in history. Of course, high-speed connections such as DSL and fiber in recent times can be said to be “the Industrial Revolution” of the network communication, making broadband accessible anywhere at all. Finally, today’s trend toward “Cloud Computing” is in some way returning communications to where they started, as the intelligence is once again being centralized within “the Cloud”.

The “Cloud Computing” and its implementation in companies

Cloud Computing is at an initial stage as far as corporate communications are concerned, but nobody doubts that it will grown significantly in a short period of time, as it has grown and is still growing within residential user communications with applications such as Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365 or Dropbox. Moreover, it should not surprise anybody that the residential market is more advanced than the corporate market in ICT and communications. This already occurred with ADSL, FTTH and 4G connectivity. The question is whether corporate  clouds will be public, private or hybrid and the pace of corporate migration to the Cloud. However, it is clear that virtualization is here to stay as the advantages that this offers are obvious so what are the benefits of virtualization in companies?

  • Reduced CAPEX and OPEX in the network periphery because of hardware and software resource are being centralized in the Cloud.
  • A clear improvement in the control, security and reliability of data and applications
  • Flexibility in resource allocation.
  • License control

Problems which you can find in virtualization

The evolution of applications towards the Cloud is not necessarily problem free. Firstly, connectivity requirements for a proper user experience are more demanding than those required when local processing and storage are in place. So special attention should be paid to issues such as redundancy, security and network optimization. Secondly, some applications that create a large amount of data volume traffic at local level, such as Digital Signage or Content Management, do not scale well in the Cloud and the problem is that we no longer have a local server for those tasks at the local site. The same occurs when non-IP devices such as printers, alarms, access control, web cameras, etc. … requiring a USB o perhaps even a serial port are taken into account. Obviously these require a local interface and local processing to be conducted, so they are adapted to the Cloud. Regardless of all the above, there is a device in the middle of all that has been mentioned above, that needs to be maintained and if all the above is taken into account, it is of utmost importance; that is the router.

The “router” as solution to various problems in Cloud Computing

The router at the branch office is what connects users and applications, so that user experience is entirely dependent on the router’s efficiency and stability. However, what role is the router going to play in the new Cloud Computing scenarios? At first sight, a minimal amount of involvement could be valid, but … could the router expand its role to evolve into a more efficient player within Cloud Computing scenarios? Certainly, this is the way forward. Due to the router’s strategic situation connecting users to applications, it is able to provide the extra security and optimization required in these scenarios, and because of its positioning within the branch office, it could be the extension of Cloud Applications to interact with local devices. Now, the remaining questions are: Does it have the ability/power to run applications? Does it have the storage capacity required by certain applications? Does it have a management tool to safely conduct local processes? In the past, these tasks had not been necessary to be conducted by a router, so the previously mentioned features in routers were not available or were very limited. At most, some artificial solutions were integrated using additional hardware (mini-PC) into the router chassis. Today,  fully converged solutions based on multicore processors are possible, integrating in one physical device two virtual devices, Router + Server, each with its own software and Operating System including HDD or SSD and USB interfaces for local devices. These new “Cloud Ready” routers support applications that are not able to run anymore on local servers, such as security (Antivirus, Antispam, SIEM Probes, Content filtering), optimization (Webcache, Videoproxy, Cloud-Replicated-NAS and Virtual Desktops Repository), Local Audit or digital signage (DLNA based). Teldat is specialized in “Cloud Ready” routers, supporting the above mentioned applications which are currently available in our portfolio. What is more, without placing any restrictions on possible applications, as the router has a standard Linux operating system, allowing the development of client or third party apps.