Ruckus may not be one of the biggest companies in the WLAN market, but it is certainly among the most innovative. The Ruckus antenna story makes those of us who care about things like coverage patterns and beam forming get all tingly, and its latest client-facing feature set aims to balance extremely high performance with minimal client pain for getting securely connected in interesting new ways. There’s a lot to talk about here.
The big story with Ruckus at the wireless network edge is a technology dubbed BeamFlex. Nowadays, every WLAN player that has a prayer of claiming market share has a feature called "beam forming." Simply put, beam forming varies the energy at the transmit antennas in ways that are meant to optimize and shape output signals for the benefit of each wireless client. There’s a lot of engineering-speak behind beam forming, but for our purposes, some methodology controls the manipulation of phasing out multiple antennas, and if it’s done properly, clients will benefit from better-quality signal and higher data rates. Despite marketing hype, there are lab studies that WLAN makers don’t always get it quite right.
In reality, there are different ways to achieve beam forming. Some are simple to understand and have debatable results when a wireless environment is populated with mobile devices that are used at every angle (and antenna orientation) imaginable. Then there’s Ruckus’ BeamFlex. BeamFlex uses adaptive antenna technology to take the notion of beam forming to a whole other place aimed at putting the competition to shame. Ruckus’ antenna magic is like no other on the market, of that there is no doubt. Whether you buy into the Ruckus product line or not, the company does a wonderful job of telling its own story through a number of videos and whitepapers that are refreshingly devoid of the typical marketing noise that pervades the enterprise wireless world. I recommend the Ruckus website at www.ruckuswireless.com, if just for the tutorials on beam forming and other highly technical wireless topics distilled down to very understandable form.
Moving downstream from the antenna, Ruckus has just announced the new FlexConnect feature set that simplifies provisioning secure access for the growing multitude of mobile devices likely to hit any corporate wireless network. Though WPA2 and 802.1x have become staples of the laptop-centric WLAN, getting a variety of device types configured at the supplicant level can be onerous and time-consuming. FlexConnect answers the challenge for Ruckus environments in a couple of different ways.
One of the FlexConnect tools called Zero IT is a framework for getting clients configured with proper supplicant settings (think Cloudpth’s XPressConnect functionality for loose analogy). This is where Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) type, credentials, servers and certificates, and certain Active Directory parameters, are set in what otherwise can take several steps to accomplish manually.
Also part of FlexConnect, Dynamic PSK creates per-user encryption keys that provide an alternative to RADIUS-based WPA encryption methodologies. (We’re seeing this offered by more Wi-Fi vendors as a convenient answer to clunky traditional client security methods.) There are numerous options to using per-user pre-shares, and when done properly they are great for self-service while meeting enterprise security requirements.
A tool called SpeedFlex also makes troubleshooting smart devices easier by running a battery of tests from each client when trouble is afoot. All in all, current Ruckus customers that have ZoneDirector controller-based networks will do well by adding the functionality of FlexConnect.
For those unfamiliar with Ruckus, the company is starting to make noise in several customer spaces, and is one to watch as a frequent innovator.
At the time of publication, Ruckus is not a client of and has no business relationship with Lee Badman.Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio