Light Reading
New service moves the WiFi controller to the cloud and helps small businesses manage and monetize their WiFi access points.

Ruckus Takes On HP With Cloud WiFi Services

Sarah Thomas
4/15/2014
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Ruckus Wireless is challenging HP's recent foray into enterprise WiFi management with a cloud-based platform of its own, designed to virtualize the WLAN controller and help small businesses monetize WiFi.

Ruckus Wireless Inc. (NYSE: RKUS) introduced its cloud-based Smart WiFi Access Management Service, SAMS for short, on Tuesday, two weeks after Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) showed off its version, the Cloud Network Manager, at Interop. (See HP: Here's How We Can Cut WiFi Costs and HP Beefs Up Its SDN Portfolio.)

What Ruckus is pitching is a way for small businesses to manage and monetize the access points they have deployed from the cloud, saving them the expense of deploying controllers and servers to manage the WiFi locally. Salah Nassar, Ruckus's senior manager of product marketing, explains that what makes it unique is not just the ability to manage WiFi from the cloud, but also to monetize it through collecting analytics and layering on custom services.

With SAMS, any new ad or service can be created and managed via a basic web portal, but it starts with analytics. Either working with a Ruckus channel partner or their own IT staff, a venue can track information on their customers WiFi usage -- their ages, device types, gender, duration of sessions, etc. -- and adjust their offer accordingly. (See Ruckus Brings Analytics to WiFi.)

For example, they could require customers to view a targeted ad before logging on to WiFi or authenticate them through Facebook or Twitter or, if they so choose, limit their length of session, bandwidth consumption, or the content they can access based on their usage patterns.

The platform does, of course, require the business to have Ruckus APs in place. The company is offering SAMS through channel partners on a yearly subscription basis for $265 per access point or $180 if the location is using local WLAN management.

So how is this different than HP's Cloud Network Manager or other competing cloud offerings? Nassar says it's the services angle. HP's platform provides AP management, but stops short at helping the venue monetize their WiFi investment. That's what Ruckus aims to do with SAMS.

That's the differentiator that Ruckus is pitching, but Ovum Ltd. analyst Daryl Schoolar says the big deal about its announcement is simply that it simplifies network management by hosting the network controller. This is still a relatively new transition for WiFi companies to be making. The revenue potential is just a value-add, he says.

"I think it fits well with operations that need to support multiple sites, but don't have a major IT budget or headcount," he tells Light Reading. "I can see this being used by a restaurant chain trying to support six to 12 locations."

While telecom service providers are big customers for Ruckus, Nassar says this is the type of WiFi service they are looking to manage and provide on their own. That's why it's focusing on the smaller guys that might only be able to afford a few APs and can't see the value in buying a controller for so few. Nassar says this is a market both Ruckus and network operators haven't really addressed in the past. (See Ruckus Scores 22 New SP Customers in Q4.)

"Those guys really like the cloud solution and tend to be on the lower end," he says of small businesses. "There are some customers on the higher end that don’t care if it's in the cloud or on site because it's a managed service but then it's up to our resellers providing the managed service to decide what's best for them."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/16/2014 | 4:31:48 PM
Re: Cloud or local?
SarahReedy - True. While public venues are moving away from asking people to pay for WiFi, they're looking for other ways to monetize the service. 
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/16/2014 | 12:00:38 PM
AT&T & BK
Here's another example today: AT&T is providing WiFi as a managed service to Burger King: http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/carrier-wifi/atandt-strikes-a-whopper-wifi-deal-at-bk/d/d-id/708681 Didn't really go into a services angle, but that could be the next step.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/15/2014 | 6:20:24 PM
Re: Cloud or local?
I imagine it will remain free (or there would be a lot of backlash), so this gives them other ways to monetize it -- ads, landing pages, targeted offers, data collection, etc. I think there's already a lot of interest in that.
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/15/2014 | 5:33:51 PM
Re: Cloud or local?
I wonder whether monetizing WiFi will prove attractive. Many retail businesses seem to be moving to free WiFi to attract customers. 
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/15/2014 | 2:38:43 PM
Re: Cloud or local?
Yeah, Cicso has a big play here, as does Aruba. Ruckus says they can do it in the cloud, local, or some combination therein depending on what the particular venue or company wants. They will, of course, still have APs on site though.
lanbrown
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lanbrown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/15/2014 | 2:34:28 PM
Re: Cloud or local?
A WLC is not required unless you are either using lightweight AP's or plan on having more than one AP.  If you use an autonomous AP then you have no need for a controller as the AP is performing all of the functions.

 

A controller is not that much money and even with a cloud offering, you still need equipment on-site unless 100% of the traffic is going to be tunneled out to the cloud which for a business like a coffee shop would not be an issue.

 

Even the heavyweights like Cisco are moving to a decentralized controller but their method also keeps the advantage of having a local controller.  Cisco is moving the controller into the switch but you can still use an upstream controller to control all of those switches with a built-in controller.

 

With a cloud based controller you still need a gateway and/or switch.

 

Cisco also has the Merkai cloud based solution.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/15/2014 | 10:37:33 AM
Cloud or local?
Cloud WiFi is an interesting trend. I think it makes sense for a lot of small companies like neighborhood coffee shops that are expected to have free WiFi but can't pay for local WLAN control. Larger companies may not be so interested in outsourcing their WiFi management, so having the flexibility to choose cloud, local, or some combo therein will be important.

Operators are still figuring out how to control their own APs, so I'm not sure how far along they are in offering managed services like this to enterprises.
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