Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex review

Price when reviewed

SMBs looking to implement a low-cost and easily managed wireless network over a large area are faced with a number of choices, few of which have impressed us so far. The ZyXEL Wireless Blanket isn’t good value, the Netgear Wireless Smart Switch has flaws, and solutions from the likes of Cisco and Aruba are too expensive.

Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex review

Enter Ruckus Wireless and its ZoneFlex solution, which aims to be a cinch to set up, a doddle to manage, and easy on the bank account. The package consists of a ZoneDirector central appliance and associated ZoneFlex APs, and on review we have the ZoneDirector 1000, which can manage up to 50 APs. At its foundation ZoneFlex is designed to provide centrally managed, secure wireless services, multiple SSIDs, rogue AP detection, the ability to handle VoIP and video streams and hotspot facilities.

Installation is a simple affair. Point a browser at the appliance and a wizard goes through the basics such as IP address assignments, creating default and temporary guest SSIDs, and securing administrative access. Now you deploy your access points: for testing we used a quartet of Ruckus’ ZoneFlex 2942 APs, which we had no problems powering over PoE via an HP ProCurve 2626-PWR switch. Once online, they discover the ZoneDirector and then broadcast the SSIDs configured on the appliance without any user intervention. For tighter security, you can deactivate this feature and manually add new ZoneFlex APs.

The ZoneDirector web interface offers a tidy dashboard view showing detected ZoneFlex APs, wireless clients and rogue APs, and for the latter it picked up 24 APs in our office block. ZoneFlex doesn’t test for LAN connections but deems all unknown APs rogues, leaving you to clear them individually. It also doesn’t provide any containment facilities for knocking rogues off the network.

To create a WLAN you add an SSID, choose an encryption scheme that can be WEP or WPA/WPA2, and activate web authentication. The latter redirects users to a web portal where they must authenticate against the appliance’s database or an external AD or RADIUS server before they’re allowed network access.

Users with guest access can be strictly controlled by limiting them to internet access only. Guests are blocked from the ZoneDirector’s segment, but you can add more subnets to the list and stop them from seeing other wireless users on the same SSID. You can limit their network access time, pass them on to a custom portal page and redirect them after authentication. Mapping facilities are provided, and we had no problems importing a JPEG of our office floor plan. Rogue APs are located using triangulation and we found the ZoneFlex heat maps useful, as it allowed us to position them to get good wireless coverage with minimal overlap.

We found the ZoneFlex a pleasure to work with. It really makes light work of deploying secure wireless networks, offers a great range of features and looks excellent value as well.

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