Where Is the Enterprise Campus Network Heading?

Mike Spanbauer
Mike Spanbauer

Summary Bullets:

  • Enterprise access networks are still largely wired today, but with wireless stability and performance improvements providing a relatively similar experience, the all-wireless campus access environment may be imminent.
  • How much will the access switch port taper off once 802.11ac begins to ship?

In a recent conversation with a colleague, we were discussing how quickly (or if) the enterprise access environment will shift from the traditional wired access methods to an all-wireless environment.  While nearly every enterprise has some wireless support today (of the many enterprises to which I have spoken, I cannot name one that does not), very few have committed to solely wireless access for the clients.  Printers, the odd workstation or two, and other peripherals may always demand some wired access, but with the prevalence of the mobile worker and the multitude of devices they tote around, it is very easy to envision the WLAN in any campus being the access method of choice.  In the past year, the market has seen an aggressive maturation of unified access solution messaging, with some extending into the adjacent space of mobile device management (where acquisition and/or consolidation will likely occur in the next 18 months). 

The key to enabling this transition will be easy-to-deploy, relatively simple-to-manage solutions.  This was part of the logic behind Cisco’s recently announced Meraki acquisition.   Meraki had built technology to enable SMEs to deploy sophisticated WLAN solutions without the expertise usually required.  HP, Aerohive, and Aruba have also invested in this ‘ease of deployment’ messaging and capability (though delivering it with varying success), enabling an enterprise to consider and embrace the (nearly) all-WLAN promise.  With the imminent delivery of 802.11ac next year and the resulting wired ties being cut (figuratively), enterprises should consider now how they see their own WLAN needs evolving.  This includes whether their current WLAN will need to be significantly reworked (depending on whether the conversion to 802.11n was made or not; yes, there are still a number of .11g solutions out there) to accommodate 802.11ac.  The best advice is to establish a project plan now with the various components required and work through each one at a time (security, access, power/PoE, controller, MDM, management, etc.).  What becomes of the access switches?  Well, we are still going to have a large volume of wired ports for the foreseeable future; however, I would be willing to bet that an aggressive transition will occur within 1G in the campus in 2015 and beyond due to this WLAN adoption acceleration.  Do you agree?

What do you think?

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