Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ubiquiti Unifi - an SME's best friend - resistance is futile

It's often difficult in small to medium IT shops to get enough budget to build a network that's stable enough to let you sleep at night.  For the most part you either pay a premium for your Cisco Catalyst, Juniper, etc and then spend hours learning how to use them properly or you wind up buying small business versions like the SG300, netgear, linksys and pray daily for uptime and accept lower performance.  It's kind of like buying a SonicWall instead of a Cisco ASA or a Palo Alto firewall.

A colleague of mine recently introduced me to Ubiquity Networks which has been around for a little over a decade and has a decent following.  Their approach to network design places a high emphasis on a dedicated controller machine or cloud key which in turn manages every other Unifi device in your network.  You define all your VLANs, WAP networks, and other settings in the controller and then 'adopt' your other devices.  The controller handles all the upgrades and provisioning of the new devices after the device has been adopted and provides statistics on clients, bandwidth usage, and types of hardware.
One console to rule them all.

bandwidth hogs can't hide.

basic switching - and yes it has STP.

The built-in Map function is pretty nifty as well.  It allows you to upload a floor layout and then define a map scale.  You then drag and drop the devices from inventory and the map updates to show you hotspot coverage, topology and other useful network management data.  And yes, this is all without buying an additional software package!

Wireless Cover map - labels removed

I was able to replace the whole wireless network for a 16,000 sq ft facility for just under $1k.

My deployment:
a) 1 UniFi Cloud Key (~$95 on amazon) - powers off POE and has a smaller footprint than a dedicated controller machine.
b) 1 Unifi 24 port POE 250W switch (~$365 on amazon)
c)  multiple UniFi AP-AC-Pro wireless access points (~$129 on amazon).  All POE based and a ridiculous indoor range compared to the Cisco WAP551 units that we used to have.

Note:  Make sure you have working DHCP on your network to make configuring the devices easier.

1) Rack mounted the switch, plugged in the cloud key, ran cabling to WAPs from the switch.
2) Configured the Cloud key - set up multiple wireless networks (limit 4).  The WAPs auto switch between 2.4 and 5 GHz using the same wireless network name so both client types work.  I set each wireless network to it's own VLAN and RADIUS authentication on the more secure one.
3) I 'adopted' the switch and the WAPs through the cloud controller interface.  And then I went ahead and hit the 'upgrade' button next to each to get the latest firmware.

--------------- And that was all it took -------------

Flat out, the stuff works.  Wireless handoff from WAP to WAP and all my client devices worked without a hitch.  I'd definitely recommend them if you're doing a greenfield deployment or if you're just looking to upgrade your small to medium sized network.

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