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Wi-Fi Gets a Cloud Makeover

By Kelly Teal
July 25, 2014 - Article

Kelly TealMore organizations are deploying Wi-Fi as mobility becomes ubiquitous and people expect constant connectivity. These days, doctors and dentists, for example, offer free Wi-Fi in their lobbies so patients may surf the Web while waiting for their appointments. Grocery stores stream Wi-Fi so customers can check for coupons. The examples are endless.

Traditionally, Wi-Fi deployments require IT staff to manage on-premises controllers that determine access permissions and security settings. But cloud is changing that, enabling controllers in the cloud. This so-called cloud-managed Wi-Fi is creating an opportunity for channel partners to build new revenue streams for their companies and deliver greater business value to their customers.

Cloud-Managed Wi-Fi vs. Managed Wi-Fi

A lot of vendors are promoting their managed Wi-Fi services as “cloud-managed." They can get away with that because it’s easy to confuse the two. However, there’s a key tip-off for discerning whether managed Wi-Fi truly is cloud-based — if it is, there’s no on-premises controller for managing access points.

“Cloud-managed Wi-Fi refers to Wi-Fi where network management takes place centrally through a Web-based tool via the cloud, as opposed to the traditional ‘box-style’ controller," said Nolan Greene, research analyst within IDC’s network infrastructure group. Cloud-managed Wi-Fi, Greene said, is a variation on managed Wi-Fi in which a third party deploys and manages all aspects of the wireless network.

For channel partners, cloud-managed Wi-Fi offers the chance to earn recurring revenue from the sale of managed services, plus additional residual compensation for extras that can be layered on.

What’s Driving Adoption

By 2018, global revenue for cloud-managed Wi-Fi infrastructure and services will reach $2.5 billion, up from a mere $653 million in 2014, IDC said in an April report. The growth is expected because businesses see cloud-managed Wi-Fi as the solution to several problems. Specifically, cloud-managed Wi-Fi:

1. Standardizes wireless networks across multiple locations. Often, discrete offices install their own solutions, resulting in a mish-mash of brands, not to mention security and quality levels.

2. Ensures compliance with regulations such as HIPAA for the medical industry, for example, as doctors and nurses must have secure wireless access to patients’ electronic records. One way this is done is by choosing a vendor that offers pre-defined compliance reports that map wireless vulnerabilities and threats to specific requirements. Not all Wi-Fi services contain such capabilities.

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