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Organizations looking at upgrading existing equipment or planning a new install have an important choice to make regarding their wireless network. Should you go with a conventional on-premises managed WLAN or opt for a cloud-managed WLAN?

Each has advantages and disadvantages. A smart choice depends on your existing network, your staff’s experience, how widely distributed your WLAN is and whether or not you prefer CAPEX to OPEX expenses.

What are the Options?

  1. A conventional WLAN features on-premises management through a controller or master AP. New access points can be installed. They then are recognized by the controller and automatically configured. All costs are up front and usually recorded as CAPEX. An example would be Cisco 3504 controller.
  2. A cloud monitored WLAN keeps the controller on-premises but offers cloud-based monitoring and configuration. Typically these WLANS have no ongoing costs past initial acquisition although a number of vendors charge for the monitoring application. An example of this solution is HPE Office Connect OC20.
  3. A cloud managed WLAN keeps the management plane in the cloud along with monitoring and updating. These WLANs usually have an annual subscription required to be able to manage one’s WLAN. Examples include: Cisco Meraki, and  Ubiquiti UAP-AC.

Pros and Cons

Conventional WLANs

You control the WLAN in its entirety. The controller (or master AP) is located on-premises and you determine when to update. Newer systems offer zero-touch deployment just like cloud-based systems.

This offers the greatest uptime for critical locations such as hospitals, schools, etc. because you aren’t depending on a third party for connectivity.

Cloud-Monitored WLANs

You still control the WLAN in its entirely. Configuration and management are performed on-premises. They reside in the controller or master access point. You can use the cloud to monitor your WLAN, initiate updates and even perform minor configuration changes. New APs can be configured via the cloud.

Typically these require no annual subscription so all expenses are up-front CAPEX.

Cloud-Managed WLANs

These solutions typically offer the greatest cloud-managed control of your network but store all configurations in the cloud. This means if your Internet is down, nothing can reach the controllers.

These also require annual subscriptions to manage and monitor your WLAN network.


Larger organizations (> 5,000 users) benefit from on-premises conventional WLANs. They usually have large, distributed IT staffs and can afford to pay for licensing of zero-touch deployment capabilities. These are the classic Cisco controller based solutions.

Highly distributed organizations with lots of small sites will benefit most from cloud-managed WLANs. The additional subscription costs are offset by reduced travel and related costs for the IT staffs. Meraki is an example of this type of WLAN.

Cloud Monitored controller-less WLANs are an ideal fit for smaller organizations. You have all the benefits of an on-premises system yet can monitor and manage (to some degree) your network from anywhere via your phone or a PC with an Internet connection. Examples of this include Aruba’s OC20 APs with their Office Connect AP for phones. Linksys Cloud Manager (see Linksys Business’ LAPAC1200C, LAPAC2600C, and LAPAC1750C access points) is a similar solution geared toward small businesses and managed service providers that look after WLANs at multiple locations.

Additional Networking Resources

Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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