Strengths: Easy deployment, good centralised management and monitoring, strong wireless security and authentication, AP meshing, excellent value
Weaknesses: Meshing is a one-way trip, no rogue containment
Verdict: Managing secure wireless networks just got a lot easier with Ruckus on the case and the latest firmware adds a range of valuable features
Ruckus Wireless aims to take the pain out of deploying secure wireless networks, as its combination of ZoneDirector appliance and ZoneFlex access points (APs) offers an affordable solution that has ease of use high on its agenda. We take a closer look at the enterprise-level ZoneDirector 3000 appliance and bring you an early look at the ZoneFlex 7363 dual-band APs.
We were never overly keen on the current ZoneFlex APs, purely because of their size, and Ruckus has bowed to customer pressure and produced a slimmer version.
The array uses 12 high-gain aerials to provide improved range and signal quality. Ruckus has changed the 7363 aerial design, resulting in a more compact unit, and added more Ethernet ports.
The ZoneDirector 3000 appliance is the brains and supports from 25 to 250 ZoneFlex APs. It maintains all wireless configurations and security settings, which it dishes out to APs as they connect to it. The APs automatically search for it on the network and then download their configurations.
The Mesh feature means APs don't even need to be wired to the main network. This allows wireless networks to be expanded easily without new cabling. In a meshed network, some APs must act as roots with a wired link to the network where ZoneDirector resides, but clients that connect to a meshed AP can communicate with the LAN by hopping over other meshed APs. A drawback is that once meshing is activated you can only go back by resetting all devices to factory defaults.
Ruckus also gave us a peek at ZoneDirector 8.2's new features. Along with the new 7363 APs, it adds support for the latest 7731 outdoor point-to-point wireless bridge. Aimed at ISPs, this IP65-rated AP supports speeds of up to 100Mbps over 8kms.
The update also introduces band-steering, which allows the APs to detect dual-band clients and direct them to either 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands for best reception. The new SmartCast QoS engine is aimed at businesses with large user bases and ensures that all users get their fair slice of wireless airtime by using queues and credits.
The ZoneDirector supports UPnP, making installation a cinch.
The main interface opens with a dashboard that can be customised easily using widgets, with options for a system overview, detected ZoneFlex APs, the most frequently used APs, clients, rogue devices and views of system activities.
For WLAN creation, you have plenty of options where you provide SSID names, choose WEP or WPA/WPA2 encryption schemes and add authentication - external AD or Radius servers or the app's local database. Web authentication can also be used.
The isolation option stops wireless clients on the same SSID from seeing each other or accessing any restricted subnets. With authentication activated, you can also use Zero-IT Activation, which downloads a utility to the client's system and applies a wireless configuration for them.
After creating a few WLANs, we connected up our test ZoneFlex APs to the network, then watched while they found ZoneDirector, updated their firmware and downloaded WLAN configs. As a wireless client joined the network, it was shown in the main interface, where we could view its details and, if required, block it.
The new SpeedFlex tool proved useful. With this in action, you get a handy speedometer advising on measured throughput/packet loss.
Mapping facilities are also provided - you download an image of your floor plan and ZoneDirector uses triangulation to pinpoint the location of all APs, very useful for hunting down rogue APs. Heat maps can also be used to work out the best wireless coverage for the ZoneFlex APs.
Ruckus considers any AP other than a ZoneFlex as a rogue, but doesn't provide any containment facilities, so clients can still associate with them. It posts them in the dashboard for review - and if you are satisfied they are legitimate, you can then mark them as known.
We really got to like the ZoneDirector/ZoneFlex combo. It's easy to deploy, Mesh provides valuable expansion and self-healing features and it's affordable for a wide range of businesses.