I’m going to take a bit of a break from the High-Density WLAN design posts and write a bit about my recent experiences with Aerohive.
Aerohive are a vendor that I’ve been watching closely for a while now and have finally been given some equipment to evaluate – thanks Andrew!
What do Aerohive do that makes their products appeal to me?
Well simply put, their architecture. It has been built from the ground up around the idea of the access point taking over the role of the controller that you will find in most other traditional enterprise WLAN solutions with seemingly little to no compromise in functionality as they’re not trying to shoe-horn this approach on top of or alongside supporting a controller based architecture.
The Hive Manager:
Aerohive’s solution essentially consists of two core components, the wireless access points and the Hive Manager. The latter is their network management console; basically it manages network policies and configurations for the access points in a network and provides visibility and reporting for network / client health, usage statistics etc.
There are also a couple of flavours of Hive Manager on offer, an online cloud based version that seems to be hosted on AWS, you also have the option to run it as a VM yourself or buy it as a physical appliance, in other words plenty of options that should satisfy most people.
As access points go this is pretty much standard for the high end enterprise offerings from most vendors at the moment, it is a 3×3:3 design and solidly built. It features dual Ethernet ports so can be used as part of a meshing setup to bridge access to a wired network, or you can also load router firmware into it. The main hardware feature of this AP that Aerohive like to point out is the antenna sensitivity is generally higher than most of their competitors where standard Omni antennas are concerned. The AP330 uses 6dBi antennas vs the usual 3-4dBi of most of its counterparts; they have also gone to a lot of effort to ensure the high quality of their RF amplifiers and so on in the radio signal chain. This should in theory mean less errors and a higher receive sensitivity better able to “hear” clients with weak transmit power / low gain antennas i.e. mobile devices.
Initial Configuration & Network Setup:
Straight out of the box you can be up and running with a basic network in a few minutes thanks to a guided configuration mode that you’re automatically taken to straight after logging into Hive Manager Online (HMOL).
This process was relatively painless and I had built a basic network config, pushed it to the AP’s and had them up and running within a few minutes of getting logged in.
The relative simplicity and ease of use here are impressive; I do a lot of jobs where speed of deployment for basic connectivity is essential. In fact I would wager that once familiar with the Aerohive management interface you could probably get a basic network up and running from scratch in the time it takes a Cisco WLC to boot up! 😉
Advanced Radio Configuration for High-Density WLANs:
One of my biggest gripes with some of the other vendors pushing out their cloud managed or controller-less WLAN solutions is that they offer a compromised feature set. This is either due to processing limitations in the AP’s or the fact they are simply playing catch up with the big vendors when it comes to feature parity and enterprise level operation of their equipment.
As someone who works mostly with very high-density wireless deployments the first port of call for me was the radio management options in HMOL.
Aerohive have a good level of granular configuration options here and they have also pre-defined a set of high capacity templates for people to take as a starting point.
You get control over the max power settings a radio can use automatically, and in terms of channel planning at 2.4GHz you’re given the choice between the standard 1-6-11 plan and 1-5-9-13 for Europe (though why the latter is selected by default if Europe is chosen as the region is beyond me). At 5GHz you get the choice to enable all DFS channels or not, but that’s it – personally I’d prefer more control here, just a simple tick box list to turn on and off enabled channels as I need to.
But I digress; those things are more do with my preferences than anything else.
What also caught my eye in the radio settings were options to enable certain high-density features and also optimize the way that the AP handles management traffic and client load balancing.
Now, bizarrely in their “High Capacity” templates a lot of these are disabled by default, odd but I guess they might cause some compatibility issues for clients so better be safe than sorry.
Aerohive offer the ability to load balance client stations not only based on numbers associated to an AP but also on airtime utilisation, I guess this is similar in operation to Aruba Spectrum Load Balancing and is a nice feature to have. They can also do bi-directional band steering of clients to and from 2.4 and 5GHz.
There are also options that can set the data rate used for management frames, either the lowest or highest basic rate on an SSID. This is handy as it can help reduce airtime utilisation and overheads caused by beacons, broadcast traffic etc. It also can have the effect of shrinking the effective cell size of a given AP when set to the high setting.
Other features that I want to investigate in more detail…
Well it seems that this post could go on forever, I’ve only been using the AP330 and HMOL for a couple of weeks and am only just scratching the surface of what their gear is capable of. Other features that I think are worth a mention here that I will look into in greater detail and likely post about would be:
Client SLA / Health Monitoring – Offers in depth view of how the network is performing as a whole.
Aerohive Private PSK – An interesting approach to managing device access for guests or for BYOD networks.
Cloud Virtual Gateway – VPN etc. using the BR100 as a router.
Client Fingerprinting / Policy Management – Provide access to specific network resources based on device classification.