Hands on the Cisco 3504 WLC

Not only are WLCs not dead, they’re not even on life support. Continued investment into the WLC platform is a clear indicator that there are still several use cases for centralized data, control, and management plane functions. Cisco has a long heritage of building awesome Wireless LAN Controllers (WLCs) and the 3504 is the next in a long line of purpose built WLCs. If you’re familiar with the Cisco WLC portfolio, the 5520 and 8540 WLCs are basically UCS based appliances with hardware offloading cards added in. The 3504 returns to the heritage of a ‘from the ground up’ design of a purpose built desktop WLC solution and it’s aimed pretty squarely at the aging 2504 and 5508 platforms. As many people are moving forward with 802.11ac deployments, a look at your infrastructure controller may be warranted.

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Without going into the details that are readily available on the data-sheet, I’ll instead focus on one or two key items of the platform that I find the most compelling.

1) Feature parity. This WLC marks the first time the entry level boxes have feature parity with the larger WLCs. If you peruse any of the release notes, you’ll see a list of exceptions for various platforms especially on the low end. The 3504 was launched out of the gate expecting to support all of the features of the 5520 & 8540 making the differences between the three platforms strictly speeds, feeds, and capacity. This should be a comfort to those that regularly struggle with the feature gap in the Cisco WLC portfolio.

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2) Quiet operation. Let’s be honest, there are more than a few deployments where the equipment is sitting table top or on a cabinet out in the open somewhere. The 3504 supports ‘fan off’ operation at temperatures up to 86 F (30 C). For the overwhelming majority of situations, it’s difficult to get up to 86 degrees and maintain it with any level of comfort. This basically means that for most deployments, you’ll never hear a sound coming out of the WLC – even if it’s in your home lab.

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3) mGig support. Multigigabit (or NBASE-T) is becoming more and more prevalent on switching infrastructure and this marks the first time we can break the 1G link speed on the infrastructure side without having to deploy a full on 10G infrastructure. Those of you that read my posts regularly may recall that I’m a fan of being able to deploy solutions that break the 1G barrier on my existing copper runs. This was commonly APs but if you’ve been investing in the latest and greatest and ignoring the FUD about not needing mGig, this is another opportunity to leverage that investment.

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All of these coupled together mean that you can get a quite elegant solution for most any environment now that we’re able to breath some life into the low end of the Cisco WLC portfolio. The 3504 is a notable improvement on the hardware and scale of the 2504 but don’t let it’s ‘desktop friendliness’ fool you – if you’re a 5508 customer today, there are going to be tons of places where ‘stepping down’ into a 3504 makes really great sense. With the rack mount kit available for it, you could easily put two 3504s in HA/SSO mode in 1RU and have all of the same features as the 5508 with a bit less capacity. Regardless of your current deployment, you really should make sure you take a peek at the 3504 as you’re considering lifecycle management of your gear.

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Disclaimer: I was provided a 3504 from Cisco as part of an early field trial and formed my opinions on my own. This post is my original work and I composed it without an expectation from Cisco.

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