Consider the TCO

By Eric Griffith

January 21, 2004

As security becomes less of a issue, addressing the total cost of ownership could become the next major concern for network managers looking to go wireless.

In a new white paper out this week entitled "WLAN Total Cost of Ownership: Comparing Centralized and Distributed Architectures," the Farpoint Group discusses the problems that have plagued the early adoption of wireless LANs, from throughput issues to high prices, to the most recent bugaboo, weak security.

"The reason for writing this paper is that security was the major concern, but it has been adequately addressed with Wi-Fi Protected Access and 802.11i coming, and, more importantly, VPNs and other technology that are applicable to LANs in general, not just wired or wireless," says Craig Mathias, the principal at Farpoint Group. "So the question is what's next? If we solved security, what's the next major concern?"

He concludes that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a WLAN will become the next big question mark for IT and management. The TCO has to factor in not only the cost of the equipment (which includes not only the wireless hardware, but also such items as firewalls, VPN hardware, routers and switches), but also the cost of installation (planning, site surveys, and more) and then the biggie: network maintenance. (TCO, the paper points out, is not the same as return on investment (ROI), which would be its current value minus the cost. TCO is just one part of the ROI.)

Mathias believes the architecture will have an impact over time. Specifically, companies need to start to actively look at WLANs for their high degree of functionality. To him, that means looking to the centrally managed WLAN switches of such companies as Aruba, Trapeze, Legra, and others. The backbone of the paper is in exploring why centralized systems can beat out distributed (a.k.a. traditional or "fat AP") systems in the long run, especially to bring down the cost of network maintenance.

Mathias says the centralized control architecture will "minimize the operational expenses over time, as it would otherwise grow because [[the management of access points] is so labor intensive. The capital expenditure goes down eventually, but the operational expenses go up.

"Primarily, network management should give you what you need to keep in control -- once it's set up and configured, it should run itself," he says.

Download a copy of the white paper here.

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