Ruckus brings NFV to Wi-Fi

23 May 2014

ITEM: Ruckus Wireless is bringing NFV to the Wi-Fi space with a virtualized WLAN controller that enables service providers, enterprises and channel partners to centrally manage Wi-Fi hotspots and services.

The Ruckus “virtual SmartCell Gateway” (vSCG) – which is designed for the company’s ZoneFlex Wi-Fi access points and supports the same WLAN controller features in the Ruckus SCG 200 – is touted as “a carrier-grade Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) solution” for cellcos, cable operators, managed service providers and enterprises.

The vSCG also supports other value added services available from Ruckus, such as location based services and analytics, as well as carrier-class features like Hotspot 2.0 and multi-tenant support.

Ruckus isn’t the first Wi-Fi vendor to come up with the idea of a virtual WLAN controller – Meraki, Aerohive, and Aruba have introduced similar solutions. The difference, insists Ruckus CEO Selina Lo, is that other solutions requires operators to give up control of WLAN management to third-party cloud services.

“The vSCG gives organizations complete control over their cloud-based WLAN service, so they can offer it and back it with their own SLAs,” Lo told your reporter.

Also, she says, “we’re giving channel partners a way to host their own service – it’s a much more channel-friendly approach to cloudification of Wi-Fi.”

As an example, Lo points to large companies with lots of small branch offices – namely chain stores like coffee houses, fast food restaurants and convenience stores. “They don’t really want a controller onsite, because they have so many branches, and the branches are relatively simple. With vSCG, they can have a centralized SCG for thousands of branches. And our channel partners can host the controller for them.”

Lo says that the vSCG is the first component in a larger Ruckus solution based on the ETSI NFV architecture. Ruckus also plans to provide a virtualized infrastructure and services manager (which will support OpenStack) to manage its virtualized appliances.

NFV tends to be associated with telecom networks, but Wi-Fi is going to be very much a part of the NFV conversation as operators deploy carrier-grade Wi-Fi as part of their small-cell strategy, says Sathya Atreyam, research manager for wireless network infrastructure at analyst firm IDC.

“Mobile network operators are increasingly exploring and evaluating architectures based on the principles of cloud computing and network function virtualization,” Atreyam said in a statement. “Carrier class wireless LAN and the associated managed services model is experiencing a transformational shift from being viewed as vertically integrated hardware and software bundled architectures to solutions that offer the flexibility of a cloud based, scalable and flexible multi-tenant deployment model.”

The NFV-based WLAN controller is the latest stage of Ruckus’ cloud-oriented push that includes the recently launched Smart Access Management Service (SAMS) – a hosted public cloud Wi-Fi service that enables both Ruckus and its channel partners to provide managed services like targeted advertising and analytics to enterprises such as shopping arcades, stadiums and airports who want to offer public Wi-Fi access.

“Managed services has been a very hot area for our service provider customers,” Lo says. “They want a Wi-Fi infrastructure that enables them to offer managed services to enterprises that realize they have to offer public Wi-Fi to their visitors, but their IT organizations are cautious about opening their Wi-Fi to the public. They want more security without inhibiting the user experience. And they also want to monetize it with targeted advertising – either on their own or through a partnership with Facebook or Twitter.”

Lo says the vSCG is already in beta trials and will ship this quarter.

One beta customer is ICT firm Frontiir, which used the virtual controller as part of its deployment of a Wi-Fi network in Myanmar covering 24 venues in four cities for the 27th Southeast Asian Games last December.

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