Review: Ruckus Wi-Fi Access Points for Your Small Business

How does the latest Wi-Fi hardware from Ruckus Wireless stack up? This review rates two access points and one controller appliance on configuration, security, authentication and performance--all key considerations for a small business that wants a new or upgraded Wi-Fi network.

By Paul Mah
Thu, January 31, 2013

CIO — The number of Wi-Fi capable devices has increased steeply over the last couple of years, fueled by the bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon on one end and the ubiquity of laptops with built-in wireless capabilities on the other. As CIOs and IT managers rush to redesign corporate networks to support the influx of wireless devices that workers are bringing into the office—sometimes even two or three per person—Wi-Fi vendors are enjoying a burgeoning market.

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One such vendor, Ruckus Wireless, began operations in 2004. With 60 patents under its belt and more than 80 pending, the publicly listed company has a comprehensive portfolio of products for building wireless networks. For this review, I deployed two top Ruckus access points (APs) to determine if they are suited for deployment for a typical SMB.

The Ruckus Wireless Hardware: Two APs, One Controller

To simulate real-world deployment conditions, I set up a wireless network with two APs.

  • The ZoneFlex 7982 is Ruckus' current top-end indoor AP. It offers three-stream performance of 450Mbps per radio for a total throughput of 900Mbps over 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously. The manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) is $1,099.
  • The ZoneFlex 7962, another indoor dual-band AP, offers up to 300Mbps per radio or up to 600Mbps over both bands. MSRP is $999.

In this instance, both APs are centrally managed with a ZoneDirector 1100 controller. This network appliance from Ruckus offers capabilities such as smart wireless meshing and will intelligently load balance wireless clients across multiple Aps, the company says. For larger Wi-Fi deployments, the ZoneDirector can also integrate with an external Authentication, Accounting, Auditing (AAA) server. Alternatively, it's equally at home working off an internal database of user accounts.

The ZoneDirector 1100 has base price of $1,200. This includes the requisite licenses to manage up to six APs. The device will scale up to 50 APs, though in that case additional licenses would be needed.

To be clear, Ruckus Wireless APs can be deployed in standalone mode. Without the controller, though, you won't get the benefits of centralized management outlined above. In my opinion, a Ruckus Wi-Fi deployment without the ZoneDirector forsakes a level of manageability that you need when you deploy more than two APs.

Setting Up, Configuring the Wi-Fi Network

A previous post, How to Set Up a Business-Grade Wi-Fi Network, highlighted how Power over Ethernet (PoE) can simplify the deployment of a Wi-Fi network. For this reason I eschewed the bundled AC adapters and instead used an 8-port Gigabit Hewlett-Packard Networking (formerly ProCurve) switch to power the two access points over Ethernet. (The ZoneDirector appliance was also connected to the switch, though it draws its power from a separate AC adapter.)

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To set up the network, the administrator must log into ZoneDirector, as the entire process of provisioning and configuring the two APs is done entirely from its Web interface. Once logged in, I found that ZoneDirector does not come with any tools for getting APs optimally positioned. However, network administrators can upload an image of their floor plans and position their APs onto it for a rudimentary appraisal of wireless coverage.

A more precise site survey will require the use of dedicated planning tools such as ZonePlanner. This os sold separately by Ruckus for both Windows and Mac platforms, though the $495 price tag suggests that only organizations performing a large-scale or particularly complex deployment may be interested. (Ruckus does offer a number of free site survey and performance monitoring mobile apps for both iOS and Android, though I did not evaluate them.)

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