RUCKUS Controllers – The Less than Complete Overview Introduction

*Disclaimer – I’m still learning about RUCKUS Controllers, so what you will read during this series of posts is in no way complete, all-encompassing, or even accurate.  Oh, and this will be a series, something else I don’t ever do!

Happy Quarantine 2020 2021 everybody! These are weird times, and as such, I have decided to break a bunch of my own hard and fast rules on what I write about, and bring you a series of posts (not one giant book – you’re welcome David Coleman) about a topic that I know a great little about. Normally, I write about what I know and know it cold. This series (again, yes, a series) is all about a topic I know very little about, so we will learn together.

I was first exposed to RUCKUS years ago when I first entered the field of Wi-Fi and took a class to help learn about Wi-Fi. The class used RUCKUS ZoneDirectors, I have no idea what model or code, but they were ZoneDirectors all the same. I honestly don’t remember much about the class, but I do remember the ZoneDirector.

(If you are anywhere in my management chain, please don’t read this next paragraph, please!)

I remember thinking “what a cute little controller, but it will never scale over 100 APs, and even then, that would be tough. It would work for 20 or 30 APs and a couple of SSID’s but I would never use this in my current position.” Gods honest truth, that is what I was thinking during that class. I liked certain features and how some things were done, but I felt, at that point, that using ZoneDirector for anything bigger would be a hard no from me. Systems that had hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of APs, no way in hell RUCKUS would be in my top 3 of vendors to pick.

Little did I know…

Fast forward many years to Black Hat 2019, and I find myself in Las Vegas, at the Mandalay Bay, working in the NOC for the wireless team, configuring a RUCKUS network on the fly. Don’t get me wrong, there was a plan for AP placement, but the RF planning was a cluster. The in-house system was on, beaconing away happily, but locked down and no one was using it. The person in charge of that knew it was going to be a cluster and asked me if I was willing to come help her figure it out and, by the way, do it on my own dime. (To be fair, she did offer to buy me breakfast one day, and did buy me dinner one night.) Always one for a challenge, and to see family in Las Vegas, I said sure.

That’s how I found myself standing over the shoulder of one Mo Williams (happily I can now say a teammate) and staring at a RUCKUS controller, a controller unlike anything I had ever seen. Nothing close to the one those many years ago in my class; this controller interface was sleek, well laid out, and easy to work on. The things that she needed to click on were all right there; it just… flowed.

Being essentially an unpaid volunteer, I wasn’t allowed to actually drive it myself (I was not happy about that, by the way) but watching her work the controller during that time, I was inspired. This was not the company that I knew, and more importantly, a company I didn’t know enough about. I knew about RUCKUS, sure, but not this RUCKUS.

This is why, months later, when Mo approached me about an opening, I had no problem listening. What I discovered was that while everyone was laughing and joking about how many times RUCKUS could get bought and sold (even I’m not sure how many times at this point) they had quietly put their heads down and were re-working their controller architecture. What I saw at Black Hat was the new and improved, and not well talked about, RUCKUS controllers.

7 15 months after joining CommScope RUCKUS and I am still trying to wrap my head around every option of controlling APs we have. Honestly, I have yet to even try all the options we have. I’ve tried a couple, some with more success than others, which led to this tweet:

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.00.34 AM

This was written after trying my hand at the “Virtual SmartZone – High Scale” controller, also known as the vSZ-H. In my last position, I was known for running a large, high-density system. Easy peasy.

I had no idea.

When the designers thought “let’s build something that scales” those folks were thinking on a different level than me. This product will probably be the last one I get to but to whet your appetite, think about this. A virtual controller that clusters for redundancy AND capacity with each cluster handling 30,000 APs and 300,000 devices. Throw in this odd concept that I had never heard of, multi-tenancy control, and my mind broke.

Oh, and it can manage RUCKUS ICX switches as well.

OK, there it is, the introduction of my series on the Ruckus Controllers and my attempt to figure this out. Hopefully, you will enjoy riding along with me as I make this journey. As of this writing, I think I know how this is going to go, but I reserve the right to change things on the (channel) fly.

I will update this as I go, so check back often if you are so inclined.

  1. Ruckus Unleashed (Controller-less)
  2. Ruckus Cloud
  3. SmartZone 144 / virtual SmartZone-Essentials
  4. SmartZone 300 / virtual SmartZone-High Scale
  5. SmartZone Data Plane

Is the RUCKUS platform perfect? Nope. Are there some bugs, flaws, and blemishes? Yup.

I won’t lie for a paycheck.

Is any platform perfect? Nope. Do I think there is something here that will benefit people? Yes, 100% I do! I wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t.

Right now I am only focusing on the control element, not the rest of the stuff. Most people know about BeamFlex+ and ChannelFly, and there are any number of AP reviews you can find on the APs. I want to focus on the part of the system I find the most fascinating which is controlling the system I just built. I am nowhere ready to get into the rest of the portfolio, all of it making me a kid in a candy store type of excited, so I need to focus on one isle at a time.

So remember, keep your seat belt buckled, your hands and feet inside the ride at all times, hold on, and enjoy the ride!


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