Now let me start by saying, as my Twitter handle @ciscovoicedude implies, that yes I’m a bit of a Cisco fanboy, and disclaimer – I work for a Cisco partner. I’ve been using Cisco technology since the dinosaurs roamed the earth (and Justin was in diapers), and I’ve seen a lot of cool things come and go. Don’t get me wrong, Cisco has had to earn my business, and they’ve failed a few times over the years (Can somebody say Cisco Works IP Telephony Environment Monitor). But more times than not, they deliver a quality product that I really love, so they get my continued endorsement, and I can sleep good at night recommending their solutions to my customers. But I don’t always use their technology exclusively. This blog posting is an example of a time where I didn’t.
I’ve done wireless many different ways throughout the years, from a simple standalone access point to large enterprise class systems, and I’ve got a lot of time behind the scenes with Cisco’s various enterprise wireless deployments, which I love, but this time the focus is something different – my house, and let’s just say my personal budget doesn’t allow for a WLC controller and a pile of cisco lightweight access points, as much as I’d love to justify it to my wife.
I live in a split-level house (which really means basement, first floor, second floor), and I have a decent sized backyard that I also need to cover for the iPads and the such (did I mention that I’m also an Apple fanboy?), and having aluminum siding (yay 1970’s) pretty much means “faraday cage”, so an outdoor access point is also a necessity.
I’ve long since outgrown (but have continued to suffer with) the standard fare of consumer level access points, and finally I decided that enough was enough, so I started looking around for a solution that made sense for me. Of course I wanted something with a central management console (once you go enterprise, your brain just never can go back to autonomous management) and with Cisco being out of the budget, I turned an eye to Ubiquiti Networks. A friend of mine (you may know him, his name is Justin Paul, oh yeah, this is his blog site) was playing with some short-haul wireless WAN stuff a few years ago, and he was using Ubiquiti gear. I’d never heard of them, so I probed him about them a bit and he gave me an overview of what he was using. I distinctly remember him showing me the management console, and I was very impressed.
Looking at the Ubiquiti website recently after my most recent Linksys AP dropped dead, I noticed that they had an ‘enterprise class’ offering called UniFi, centered around a software-based controller, and sub-$100 access points at their entry level – a fit for my budget. I’m not going to get into the Cisco vs Ubiquiti debate – the way I see it, it’s different hardware for a different audience (even if the respective manufacturers may not agree with me). It seemed to make sense for my deployment, so decided to give it a whirl.
So I went ahead and placed my order to the basic UniFi AP’s (2 of them in fact) and spun up the controller and 2 AP’s within about an hour or so – it took me longer to run the cables. I have to say, it couldn’t be easier. Granted, I’m not doing any sort of heat map (really, who has a floor plan of their house, unless it is a new build) but I did turn on the guest access captive-portal style access on a guest SSID, and I’m quite impressed. Signal quality is wonderful, I’m covering my entire house with 2 AP’s, and I’ve got a wire ran for an additional outdoor AP that I haven’t yet purchased… Probably within the next 30 days I’ll add it. Support for enterprise-based authentication is there (although I’m not using that in my environment) which is a plus, and sets this solution apart from your consumer-grade wireless solutions.
So what sucks about the solution? The non-standard powering of the access points, that’s what! Come on Ubiquiti, I don’t care what adapters and converters you might have available for sale – you need to be making your access points, ALL of them, support 802.3af standards based PoE. There’s no excuse for passive, non-standard stuff in a product line you’re pitching as ‘Enterprise’. Other suggestions – lets turn your software controller into a virtual machine appliance, not just an ‘app’ that runs on a desktop. You want to grow into the enterprise space, you’ve got to think ‘enterprise’.
All in all, the solution works for me, and it does so in the deployment model I needed to use. Do I consider it a mature enterprise-class solution for a 5000-AP deployment – heck no. Do I think it’s junk, absolutely not! I won’t be recommending this to my customers for thousand-point deployments, but for me, at home, it’s a solution I can live with. The price point is right, the feature set is right, and I can live with the rest. Is Cisco still king for Enterprise wireless – I think so… but there’s no way it will pass the ‘can I spend the money, honey’ test with my wife in the room.
Cisco – I still love you. Ubiquiti – keep working on it, you’ve got some things going for you. You have kept my wife happy.
Josh – Follow me on Twitter @ciscovoicedude