Leveraging Cloud-native Principles and
Automation for Next Generation WLANs

By: Suresh Katukam

Over the past 26 years Wi-Fi has proven itself to be the bedrock of today’s Local Area Network (LAN). As a result, it also serves as the foundation upon which most of today’s businesses function. That said, the ongoing “digital transformation” driving so many business decisions today is bringing massive changes to IT infrastructure as we know it. This is driven by the continued migration of enterprise data and applications to the cloud. With the vast majority of enterprises running mission-critical applications in a “cloud first” approach and consuming services like Zoom and Salesforce via a cloud-based subscription model, the question is not if, but when, this paradigm shift will impact the enterprise wireless LAN, a historically hardware-dependent network model that has proven itself resistant to change.

Why Apply Cloud-native Principles to the Wireless LAN?

Why seek to change a model that has proven itself so effective? The reason is that priorities have changed. Enterprises today are shifting focus to business outcomes rather than simply maintaining technology infrastructure. A CIO colleague explained, “I want my high-value people doing high-value work, not spending all their time keeping the lights on.”

As it exists today, IT is forced to spend a significant portion of its operational resources “keeping the lights on.” Consider the following aspects of today’s network model:

  • Many boxes of self-contained technology and monolithic software.
  • Complex configurations baked into the hardware.
  • Painful software upgrade cycles.
  • Limited automation.
  • Limited data collection.
  • Separate AI models are required to generate insight.

Multiple decades of layered complexity eat into every budget, security, and performance compromise in developing the wireless LAN today. Today’s CIOs don’t care where APs are located or what version of 802.11 is running. They only care that the network is working as intended and that their teams are working on building their business. If we are to free IT to focus on high-value projects that move the company forward, applying cloud native advantages to enterprise networks should be a priority.

What Does a Cloud-native Wireless LAN Look Like?

First and foremost, a cloud native wireless LAN is delivered via a cloud-based subscription model. IT has made it clear they prefer to consume their applications and services via this route. In the case of a wireless LAN, this service may be delivered by a channel partner, a traditional telco, or even a technology vendor. This includes zero upfront capital expense with no hardware to purchase. In fact, many legacy enterprise network vendors have recognized the advantages of this approach and have begun to offer rudimentary Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) offerings, but the simple truth is that the majority of these offerings amount to the same old hardware-centric model hidden behind a curtain of clunky services.

Second, and related to the cloud-based subscription model, a true cloud native wireless LAN eliminates the need for IT to manage the product lifecycle. That means not managing the transition between Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6, 6E, or even 7. It means never having to cobble together switches, controllers, and five different kinds of Access Points (APs). The burden of maintaining this technology should fall on the entity delivering the cloud-based service. This frees IT to focus on the applications and services running on the network itself instead of having to spend time evaluating new hardware and figuring out how to integrate every new generation of wireless technology.

Third, a cloud native wireless LAN should incorporate zero-trust network security principles as part of its foundation. In short, security must be baked into the network from the beginning. There is little doubt that cybersecurity events represent an existential threat to businesses everywhere. Most hardware-centric, on-premises models are vulnerable to rogue APs, Evil Twin networks, and Man-in-the-Middle 


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