Last year, when business was booming at a small music school, the owner bought new wireless network access points and a network controller. Within eight months, revenues had surpassed even the most optimistic expectations, the school was taking over the space next door and it was poised for even further growth. One problem: The business had already outgrown its new network, so it had to purchase more access points and replace its controller with one suitable for a larger network.
This example illustrates just one of many reasons why managed wireless services make sense for many scenarios. Whether an organization is experiencing explosive growth or it’s so small that it doesn’t have an IT staff, turning over the wireless network to a trusted partner can translate into better Wi-Fi service, sometimes at a lower cost than managing it in-house.
“I think we are seeing the perfect storm,” says Manjunath Mahishi, director of product management for Aruba Networks. “We most likely will see more businesses move toward managed Wi-Fi solutions.”
Research supports this prediction. In its August 2015 Network Equipment Spending and Vendor Leadership report, research firm IHS found that wireless had the highest growth among all managed services.
“That has to do with the rapid changes in wireless networks and equipment,” says Matthias Machowinski, research director for enterprise networks and video at IHS. “We had 802.11n, which is old hat at this point. We had 802.11ac come out. Now we’ve got the 802.11ac Wave 2 access points coming out. An outsourced model offloads some of the risk that your technology is becoming obsolete.”
Many organizations find it cost-prohibitive to continue to upgrade equipment, but users and customers expect optimized wireless networks. “There’s a constant pressure to upgrade the equipment if you want to have the latest and greatest,” says Machowinski.
In addition to keeping pace with equipment, it’s challenging for those managing wireless networks to stay up to date on the fast-changing market, he adds.
Even if an organization has staff with experience building wireless networks, it might not have the time to monitor Wi-Fi, or it might not be aware of the latest threats to look out for. Turning to a service provider can deliver that expertise without having to train or hire IT staff, or pull them from other responsibilities.
“You might be paying more for the service,” Machowinski adds, “But if it frees up your staff to do other things, then that's still a net benefit to the organization.”
The Right Fit
A trusted partner such as CDW can assess, design, deploy and manage a wireless network, freeing up staff to do other essential work. If maintaining the network requires software updates or bug fixes, a partner can handle them.
Because CDW has relationships with all the major networking vendors, it can customize solutions to meet each customer’s unique needs. We also work with third-party vendors that can help manage customer networks.
CDW offers gold, silver and bronze packages for our managed wireless services, allowing organizations to choose how much assistance they need. At one end of the spectrum, CDW will build the network and address any problems or upgrades. “We’re taking care of it like it’s our network,” explains Sven Rasmussen, enterprise networking team lead at CDW.
Organizations needing only limited assistance can opt for the bronze package, in which they build and maintain the network, but CDW monitors it and alerts the business if there’s a problem.
In addition to managing wireless hardware at client sites, CDW also offers cloud-managed wireless services such as CDW Cloud Managed Networking, powered by Cisco Meraki. Cloud-managed services deliver high capacity and provide a centralized console of management tools.
Customers can choose from an array of managed wireless options depending on their situations and brand preferences, explains Rasmussen. An organization experiencing explosive growth might want CDW to build and manage a scalable cloud-based network, rather than spend the capital to get new offices off the ground.
“You hire someone to go do it for you,” says Rasmussen. “It’s all about allocating your resources. What’s your human capital? What do you want your staff spending their time on?”
Outsourcing wireless also makes sense for growing businesses because it allows them to scale not only up, but also down if needed. “What if the growth collapses?” poses Rasmussen. “You can just turn it off. It’s like flipping a switch.”
Managed wireless isn’t just about plugging in a network and monitoring it. Solutions integrators such as CDW constantly look for new ways to bring value to customers.
Many organizations turn to partners to handle guest Wi-Fi access, content security, data analytics and communications services layered on top of their core network services. Such services are particularly popular with businesses in the retail and hospitality industries, such as shopping malls, hotels and airports, as well as school districts.
Partners can push relevant content to users, such as coupons when visitors log on to a store’s guest network.
Solutions integrators can also aggregate data coming in from the guest network and provide rich analytics to retailers. They can send weekly reports on traffic patterns in stores, giving managers insight into when traffic peaks, how long customers stay and whether promotions are effective. Even with anonymized data, they can tell if and when repeat customers are in stores.
“We are not just providing boxes,” says Mahishi. Aruba provides application programming interfaces so that systems such as billing and data analytics can be integrated with wireless networks.
Managed services also allow organizations to offload the liability that comes with providing guest networks. Several organizations with large IT staffs manage their user Wi-Fi networks but outsource guest networks so that the partner takes legal responsibility for the content that flows on the network.
In terms of guest Wi-Fi access, service providers can establish and manage the networks themselves, and they can also help organizations with branding and content on those networks. “It’s about user engagement when they’re on the guest network,” explains Mahishi.
For additional networking news, check out, "The Internet of Things Offers Insights to Manufacturing, Retail and Other Industries" and "How NBASE-T Makes Installing Faster Networks a Breeze for Business."