For the majority of people the term wireless means a simple router or access point (AP) and that is that. However, when you look at wireless on a larger scale you have to have a means to control access points in your organization with a little more efficiency. The thought of going from AP to AP and manually making changes to ensure proper coverage or channel plans is one that would keep most network engineers up at night. However systems that offer a centralized management point for multiple Aps are typically out of the range of small and even medium sized businesses. NETGEAR has stepped in and created a few products to cover this market. We have their WC7600 Wireless controller and a pair of WN370 Access Points in the lab, so let’s check this bundle out and see how it fits in.
The Box and Goodies -
The boxes are nothing really special as these products are intended for business use. NETGEAR, like many other business focused companies have decided to go with simple packing and to give you just what you need to get things going.
Inside the boxes we find the product and a few accessories, but not much more.
The NETGEAR WC7600 and WN370 -
The NETGEAR WC7600 is a fairly large, rack mountable product that is intended to be put in a closet, or MDF somewhere. You would not want this sitting on the shelf around people simply because of the high-speed fans that are designed to keep air moving through it.
NETGEAR gives you two 10Gbe SFP ports and a 1Gbe copper port on the front. You can also connect via a 9-pin serial port if you want or need CLI (Command Line Interpreter) access. There is a lot to talk about with the WC7600 and the two WN370s that we received so we thought we would cover it in a video instead of trying to type everything out.
Performance with a product like the WC7600 and the WN370 combo is not just about the amount of data you can push through it (or over the air). Instead it is about ease of use and flexibility. As we evaluated performance here we looked at how quickly we could set up different aspects of the devices and how having multiple functions running affected overall performance. So let’s kick things off with ease of configuration and use.
As you saw in the video setting up new Aps can be fairly simply you do need to make sure that the devices pick up an IP from the DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) so that your controller can see it. Once it has an IP the wireless controller will look for a certain range of devices and give you the option to add them in. Once connected you can move them to the group you want.
These groups are also pretty simple to setup and can contain multiple SSIDs (wireless network names) so that you can allow users to connect. The rest of setting up a network is also simple, perhaps too simple. We were looking to try and configure the Ethernet ports on the WN370s with different VLans and did not find any way to do that on a per-port level in the controller or in the actual AP.
Moving on to our bandwidth tests (actual throughput) we found that there was little to no administrative overhead over the 1Gbe lines. We saw average throughput of 112MBps between our two test machines. These test machines have multiple SSDs in them to maintain read and write performance that will saturate most systems (including 10Gbe). On a normal systems we saw that the available bandwidth was enough to max out the read and write speeds of SSDs even when you had a pair in RAID 0.
On the wireless side we saw performance that was fairly solid although the WN370 access points were certainly not designed with long range in mind. Instead it became clear that these were designed to cover small to medium sized rooms. Our average throughput with a single device connected over 802.11n 2.4GHz wireless (the WN370 does not support 5GHz). This is around what you would expect of an 802.11n access point running at 2.4GHz.
Real World Traffic -
In terms of real-world traffic the WN370 is designed to handle 10-20 connected devices without any issues so we were not able to max out the abilities of the device itself. We were able to connect 5 devices and put them to the test and found that we had more of an impact on the actual server that was performing the read and write test than the actual access point or wireless controller.
As for the WC7600 it can handle up to 50 access points per device (they can be stacked). Of course the number of APs you can connect is going to be determined by the licenses you buy. When running over 10Gbe it is unlikely you are going to saturate the connections back to the controller if you are using PoE (Power over Ethernet) switches for your APs that have 10Gbe uplinks back to your core switch you should be good for anything up to 802.11ac (which the WC7600 supports).
Value is another very subjective topic. What is expensive to some might be a deal to others. You can look at this topic in multiple ways. One is raw price and the other is what you get for the money. Each is accurate and both are correct ways to look at price/value. We tend to look at features, performance and real-property when we discuss value. However, we also take into account the raw cash cost of the item. When you talk about the price of products in this class the numbers can get pretty high, but you have to remember the value proposition that they bring to a business. The WC7600 will set your business back to the tune of $3080 for the bas controller with no licenses installed. You can get a 10-pack of licenses for about $1060. This is not a bad price when you consider what you are able to get back out of the WC7600. You get central configuration capabilities with a 10Gbe connection, stacking, load balancing, 802.11ac support and more.
For the WN370, each AP will run you $219 which is about $100 cheaper than comparable products on the market. The biggest difference is that some of the competition will allow the ports to be configured with individual VLans for greater segmentation of devices.
To wrap things up we really felt that the WC7600 was a great product for a medium sized business with wireless needs. It has a good price point and a feature set that is not really present in the same price range. The options of 802.11ac and 10Gbe connectivity gives you room to grow and ensure that your bandwidth needs are covered for the future. The WebUI is solid although there do need to be a few more options for controlling both the DHCP servers you setup and the SSIDs (being able to add a VLan to both would be great).
For the WN370 we were less impressed although the price does put them into a good spot if you are just getting things off the ground and do not have a large budget. Again NETGEAR needs to add in the ability to put VLans on the individual ports on the WN370. Doing this will give is much more flexibility and make it more attractive to hospitality businesses where there is a real need for port segmentation and ACL (Access Control Lists) per Vlan to prevent guests from using the networks they are not supposed to be on (like phone and IPTV).
NETGEAR’s push into this market is a solid one and we can only see them improving from here as they learn and add more products.
Tell us what you think in our Forum