In the realm of wireless networking, there is perhaps no more daunting a proving ground than the college campus. Not only is there the need to segregate private faculty traffic from that of students, but for systems administrators, there is also the need for solutions that are scalable, consistent, reliable and, most important, affordable.
Offering single-point setup, quality of service (QoS) control, captive portal support, load balancing and guest network capability, the Cisco Systems WAP321 offers features to suit all of those needs — at a price point on target for right-sizing growing networks.
The WAP321 can be configured as a stand-alone 802.11 a/b/g/n access point or used to extend an existing wireless network, providing expansion on demand without the need for costly cable infrastructure. Setup is straightforward and, even after leasing a dynamic IP address, the unit can be located quickly by running any network discovery utility that supports the Bonjour protocol.
Beyond its host of features, the WAP321 can be powered by either a traditional AC adapter or a Power over Ethernet–enabled network, meaning the unit can be placed virtually anywhere without worry over its proximity to an electrical outlet. For networks that do not support PoE, an optional Cisco Gigabit PoE Injector can be placed in line to act as an inexpensive power source.
Why It Works for IT
The AP's single-point setup feature proved intuitive and easy to navigate. A template can be created on the first device, then applied across an entire cluster of units (up to eight units per cluster), all discoverable by the first device. Not only will that prove a huge time-saver for sysadmins, but using a uniform configuration across several APs also will allow most clients to connect to any AP on the campus using a single wireless profile.
Guest network capability allows sysadmins to segregate unsecured network traffic from students, visitors or any number of BYOD endpoints typical to campus networks. Customizable QoS allows for the prioritization of network traffic — a must in the university setting, where peer-to-peer traffic can be a problem. The WAP321 also supports access control and rogue access point detection, providing an added layer of security against unauthorized clients.
Cisco is a reputable company with a proven history of strong customer service. Each WAP321 comes with one year of phone support and a limited lifetime warranty. The phone support can be used for anything from generic technical support to nuts-and-bolts questions related to any of the product's features. That could be a breath of fresh air for tech support teams accustomed to being pointed toward a legion of knowledge base articles.
Although the unit supports firmware updates via the administrative console, it lacks the ability to automatically check for them, which means sysadmins must manually visit Cisco's support site to search for updates and determine whether the available firmware is more current than that on the device. The process is both woefully cumbersome and, frankly, disappointing in an age when far less expensive network equipment can check for updates automatically.
Additionally, IT teams should be aware that the template configuration created is applicable to other WAP321 units only. That is not an issue in the current environment because availability isn't much of a factor. But once the unit is discontinued, the convenience of expanding the wireless network with single-point administration will be lost unless a campus plans ahead and keeps additional units on hand.