Roving Planet Central Site Director

By Jim Geier

January 23, 2004

This management system has the right mix of features to help you control an enterprise WLAN or a public hotspot.

Model: CSD Engine and CSD Agent
Pros:
Integrated platform, flexible, easy to deploy.
Cons: No encryption, rogue AP detection not fully integrated.

Roving Planet's Central Site Director (CSD) is a comprehensive wireless LAN management, control and integration platform fitting for just about any enterprise or public hotspot.

The CSD brings together all wireless management functions in a centralized manner that reduces total cost of ownership. With the CSD, users have a platform that provides a complete line of wireless management functions that make up for limitations in conventional access points. The CSD offers a single common platform, avoiding the need to deal with weakly integrated components that competitors tend to offer.

The CSD has native support for a wide range of authentication services, such as RADIUS, LDAP, and Active Directory along with authentication protocols like PEAP, LEAP, TTLS, 802.1x, and EAP-MD-5. The CSD also enables authentication through encrypted (SSL) browser-based login via a customizable built-in Web portal, digital certificates or MAC ID, and ships with on-board RADIUS. Authorization mechanisms deny access to applications from ineligible users and devices in a variety of ways, such as by port, IP-port pair, protocol, and subnet.

The monitoring capability of the CSD is substantial. Real-time monitoring, display, and logging of all users and devices keep track of user activity, permissions, status, and location. Administrators are able to view the bandwidth utilization and other network activity by user, group, application, or access point. CSD's reporting functionality includes pre-built reports as well as customizable reporting and data export to third-party applications. Roving Planet says additional interfaces to CiscoWorks and HP Openview are coming in the near future.

To aid in operational support, the CSD allows administrators to view multi-vendor access point configuration parameters, such as transmit power, radio channel, and firmware version. The CSD automatically discovers all access points and organizes them by logical groups defined by the administrator. Centralized configuration of all access points makes updating firmware and changing configurations very easy.

Bandwidth management is made available by the CSD which allows administrators to limit and prioritize traffic by user, group or application. Bandwidth is optimally allocated at each access point based on load, users and applications, which can adapt to the changing radio environment. This is certainly critical when supporting VoIP and multimedia Web browsing amidst other lower end applications such as e-mail or when there are multiple enterprise applications available through the wireless network.

The CSD offers excellent support for multiple organizations and WISPs by enabling segments of users to operate as discrete entities on a single wireless LAN. A Website redirect mechanism routes users to their applicable portal based on log-in credentials. The CSD makes it possible to manage each segment of users separately with support for third-party authentication and billing systems. These types of features are extremely advantageous when multiple WISPs need to operate over the same wireless LAN, companies want to have a common wireless infrastructure for both private and public applications, or enterprises needing to keep business units separate.

An open architecture enables the CSD to act as integration point for all wireless systems and applications. A well-defined API allows integrators and WISPs to include unique features. In fact, Roving Planet and associated partners are actively using this API to extend functionality rapidly as new requirements arise.

Besides having a solid set of security and management features, the CSD is easy to deploy. The CSD operates as a bridge instead of gateway, which is simpler to integrate into an existing network. This works well because the administrator is more familiar with taking care of network configurations, such as DHCP and NAT, through the existing network.

An issue with the CSD is that it doesn't offer encryption. In other similar products, however, I've found that administrators generally use VPNs and WPA instead of the vendor supplied encryption methods. Roving Planet has partners, though, that can supply specific encryption if necessary for your wireless network.

Another problem I found while testing the CSD is that the rogue access point detection is not fully integrated; it currently runs as a separate system. It's extremely important that companies continually monitor for unauthorized access points. Roving Planet claims that fully integrated rogue access point detection will be available by the end of the first quarter of 2004.

Overall, the CSD certainly has the right combination of features to support enterprise and public hotspot applications. If you're in the process of deploying a wireless LAN, I highly recommend considering the CSD. You'll find that the comprehensive set of features from this single platform will likely solve most if not all of your requirements.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers training focusing on wireless LANs.

Originally published on .

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