Apple can be a hard company to work with. From its long-in-the-tooth Bonjour protocol that drives network admins crazy to non-existent details about bug fixes, Apple tends to simply do things its own way. At home and in the SMB market, this works out well enough for the company and customers alike. On business networks, though, it’s an entirely different story. Apple’s “our way or no way” approach is often a point of contention with business network support folk.
Enterprise Wi-Fi company Aerohive Networks has been working to bridge this gap by optimizing its products to make life better from the WLAN side for Apple wireless devices that are penetrating enterprise network environments. Apple devices have a history of “sticky client syndrome,” but Aerohive builds in logic to help them roam across APs better. As Apple client devices become the first choice for a growing number of business users, these are the kinds of tuning measures that can make or break a WLAN admin's day. The company also was the first vendor to introduce a “Bonjour Gateway."
Recently, Aerohive announced that its enterprise Wi-Fi access points are now available in the Apple Online Store in North America. Now, consumers and SMBs that need more than Apple's own AirPort wireless router have an option. This is a big step for Aerohive as well as for Apple--it somewhat formalizes the blurring of the line between consumer and business networking. However, I think there are some potential drawbacks for Apple customers.
I have my own small, multi-AP Aerohive network. The access points are indeed far more capable than the Apple AirPort from a business WLAN perspective. But the wireless robustness an Apple customer gains with Aerohive may be offset by complexity of device administration. Put another way, Aerohive’s zeal for helping Apple devices work in the enterprise won’t necessarily translate well should the consumer-tier and small-business Apple faithful purchase Aerohive access points.
[Apple's iOS 7 includes new management and security features that can help IT administrators. Check them out in our slideshow, "10 Ways Apple iOS 7 Targets Businesses."]
Setting up, owning and getting support on an Airport is fairly straightforward on all accounts. Between Apple support pages and a huge Apple community, it’s hard to get stumped on anything related to Apple’s own wireless router.
For Apple customers who hoose to buy Aerohive access points, life gets more complicated.
Since it's cloud-managed, Aerohive's AP comes with a three-year license and the same HiveManager dashboard that enterprise customers use. Some users will not like the licensing scheme, and many are likely to find the fairly complex HiveManager interface too complicated for their needs. For the relationship to have long-term viability, I think Aerohive will have to give perpetual licenses to Apple store customers and slim down the UI by an order of magnitude.
Support also has the potential to be problematic for customers that now have to engage both Apple and Aerohive when problems creep in. Thankfully, my own Aerohive network hums along, but at times I've been stymied trying to understand the Hive Manager UI, and have had to ask Aerohive for support.
Should something go wrong for Apple/Aerohive customers, there is a fair potential for finger-pointing between Apple and Aerohive if neither can figure out a client issue under the current arrangement. Enterprise WLAN admins tend to mediate these situations, but consumers and many SMBs won’t have the luxury of an IT staff, so the risk of frustration is higher for them.
Aerohive's inclusion in the Apple Online Store validates its hardware and cloud management strategy. At the same time, Aerohive is now playing with higher stakes in the SMB and consumer markets while Apple is dipping its toes in bigger networking waters. Let’s hope for the sake of Apple customers that the partnership works out.