RUCKUS ZoneDirector – The Less than Complete Overview

This is part of a series on the RUCKUS line of controllers. To read the introduction and to find other posts in this series, please see the first blog post which can be found here.

At first I wasn’t going to do a review of the ZoneDirector, but some people asked and I managed to find one that I could use to test. What I find the most interesting about this installment of my series is how I view the platform in general. My review of the ZoneDirector platform, I think, is skewed by the fact that I made it through all the other platforms before getting to this one. I have to think that had I reviewed this one right after Unleashed, I would probably have a different take. Since I am doing it after all of the other options, I can tell immediately that my impressions have been “tarnished”, if you will, by reviewing and using the SmartZone first. Just wanted to put that out there before continuing, that way I can say you have been warned.

What is RUCKUS ZoneDirector?

ZoneDirector is the RUCKUS platform that has been around for the longest. I know it was my first introduction to RUCKUS all those years ago in my class (I think I figured out that was on version 3.something and the one I have access to today is on version 10.4) so there has been some work done on that front in the past 6 years or so. The other thing I want to point out before moving on is that while the ZoneDirector (ZD) 1200 is the platform still functioning today, there were other versions of ZDs in the past. What I am going to talk about now is just the 1200, not any of the older, retired versions, that were replaced by the SmartZone line up that I covered earlier. I mention that because the first item I am going to cover.

ZoneDirector is a physical appliance designed to be mounted somewhere on site to act as that traditional controller that many people associate with Wi-Fi. While the older, discontinued versions (the ZD3000 & 5000) could scale larger than the ZD1200 of today (or the 1100 and 1000 before it) they were also the standard 1RU rack mount appliance typically seen. The ZD1200 is a smaller, shelf mounted type controller normally seen in smaller environments.

RUCKUS Network Controller Scaling

Most folks like to compare the current ZD to Unleashed, and when looking at the scaling options, it’s easy to see why. AP count is pretty similar while the device count of the ZD is almost double that of Unleashed. Whereas Unleashed is a converged network controller (controlling both APs and switches) the ZD is the traditional WLAN controller and doesn’t support managing switches. The other thing that people point to is the fact that the ZD uses dedicated hardware without radios and Unleashed is on a device that can serve clients because the device has radios as well.

Sidenote here – Newer versions of Unleashed allow for the AP acting as the controller to be set so it won’t serve clients, and just uses the hardware to act as the controller, which in some circumstances negates this fear. There are still others, I get that, but I wanted to point this out.

Configuring and Managing RUCKUS ZoneDirector

The first thing I noticed when logging into the latest version of the ZD is how this isn’t ANYTHING like I remember from the class where I used the ZD for the first time. The second thing I noticed is how much IT IS like the SmartZone interface of today.

RUCKUS ZoneDirector Menu

I’m so torn about this.

On one hand I am glad that the interface I remember, the one that I thought was cute but was hard to move around in, is gone. I wasn’t a fan. On the other hand, because this new version looks so much like SZ, I find myself continually looking for SZ features and functionalities I have grown accustomed to, and they aren’t there. When I said earlier that I thought my impressions were skewed, this is what I mean. They look so similar that I appreciate the familiar layout but keep looking for things that just aren’t there.

As you can see, the image looks really similar to the SmartZone line, just really slimmed down. There aren’t any Domains, or Zones, just the AP Groups. The Wireless LANs tab is the same look, just the WLAN Groups. I guess that makes sense as this is known a “Zone Director” (singular zone) and not a “Zones Director” (multiple zones). Also, with a limited scale (150 APs) I guess the need for multiple zones and such just isn’t needed.

On the plus side of this, if someone is used to this interface of the ZD and upgrades to the SZ platform, any version, it would make for a very easy transition.

Another thing that took me a bit to grasp was the missing features in the “More” button that I have come to rely on with SZ. While still there in the Access Points menu, the features are a little different. Also, the System Default AP group is the primary group and located at the top of the menu. Again, it makes sense, so this is just me crying about nothing really. The other thing to notice here is I have already created a test group to move my trusty R750 into so I don’t disturb all the other important work this ZD is doing. </sarcasm>

RUCKUS ZoneDirector Access Points Page

For this version of the ZD, most of all the work happens in the Configure menu found above the APs. While not bad, it does reinforce the idea that this particular platform is destined to stay in the small to medium size range, and that doesn’t bother me at all. Configuring the name of the AP, selecting the AP Group you want it to be in, and other basic configurations can take place here as well.

RUCKUS ZoneDirector Edit AP Settings

Without boring you with a bunch of pictures, the data displayed about the networks, the performance, and the clients reminds me a lot of the Unleashed style of graphs. It doesn’t take long to see why so many folks really love the ZD and what they can do it with it. It has the feel of the larger controllers but still maintains that smaller feel for networks that don’t exceed the 150 AP limit.

I’m down with that. I think I am starting to get on board here.

RUCKUS ZoneDirector Traffic Analysis

Advanced RUCKUS ZoneDirector

RUCKUS ZoneDirector Advanced Options

I will admit, that felt a little weird typing that section header.

The reason why I left it was because when I went and started to investigate what “advanced” features the ZD had, I was actually pretty shocked. Now, when I opened the Troubleshooting menu, it had the Client Connectivity feature that I really love along with a Diagnostics section that includes doing a packet capture from a connected AP, also cool.

What caught me off guard was the Services & Profiles menu item shown here on the right. I was just going to take a screenshot of that list until I kept scrolling down, and down, and down, and the list of things just kept going on and on. This is supposed to be the little controller that could, not some full featured controller like the SmartZone. What gives RUCKUS? You’ve been holding out on me!

Application Control, URL Filtering, Maps, Guest Access, two kinds of Hotspots, Mesh, Services, Bonjour services, Location Services, and my new favorite, WIPS & Rogue Devices. When FragAttacks came out and I spent some time researching and writing down some thoughts, my fear was as I looked at the ZD it wouldn’t have what I was hoping it would have, but there it was, sitting there ready to flood my logs with alerts.

In total, there are 16 different menu items located in Services & Profiles, and some of those have multiple settings nested in them as well. I’m not going to get into all of the different features and such as I have covered most of those in the previous entries in the series. I’m just happy to see them all there, ready and waiting for those who are still chugging along with their trusty ZoneDirectors, just as happy as can be!

RUCKUS ZoneDirector Final Thoughts

I think after spending some time with this latest iteration of the ZD, I finally get the devotion that people have to the platform. I especially get it after talking to some about the UI change from the original 3.X version to this latest UI. Even some of the most devout ZD fans admit that the view I remember wasn’t great and that it needed to change. I am SOOOOO happy that they changed it. I am also happy that it aligns with the SZ line of controllers. For any users of the ZD that are hesitant to move to the SZ line if they find they need the additional capacity, it makes the idea of transitioning so much easier when you realize that what you had in the ZD controller will still be there, but just with additional features. I like that.

I still think that had I started with the ZD before I did the entire SZ lineup this would have read much differently. I know I would have been much more excited about what I was seeing, and then as I moved into the SZ line-up, things would have made MUCH more sense. But, water under the bridge.

It does worry me that ZD isn’t the converged controller (managing APs/WLANs and switches) like the other controllers in the lineup. With the industry push towards the “single pane of glass” (for those wanting that single glass of pain concept; sorry, I jest) it feels like something is being left on the table by networks that would look to deploy a new ZD today. I also totally get that this fills a gap in the capacity planning by Unleashed maxing out at 2,048 client devices. The AP capacity is pretty close to the same so I get it’s a tough decision.

My “final” final thought is that I am glad I took a look at the ZD of today so I better understand why organizations like the ZD so much. I finally get it, and totally understand the devotion. In my heart, I will always like the SZ better but at least now I understand why people like the ZD so much. I will be interested to see where CommScope RUCKUS takes us with the ZD in the future, as even I am not sure what that might look like.