As your small business grows, your staff and clientele grow with it—that means more devices trying to connect to your Wi-Fi network simultaneously. You don’t need a lot of networking experience to incorporate one or two access points in an effort to boost your signal, but managing several access points can be time-consuming and expensive if you don't know which resources are available to you.
There are three ways to manage multiple access points: direct access, hardware-based controllers, and controllerless access point clustering. For most growing small businesses, access point clusters are the most efficient option.
Manually configuring access points using direct access is a good approach when you only have a few access points to maintain. With direct access, you can manage an access point simply by entering its IP address into the Web browser of any tablet or computer that’s on the same network. From the access point's Web utility, you can run the setup wizard or specify the settings manually. Examples of setting changes include resetting the password, specifying the encryption settings, or distributing access to users based on their usernames.
Installing a hardware-based Wi-Fi controller is the approach often taken for large, enterprise networks. The controller is installed in a server room, where a trained network administrator configures hundreds or thousands of access points at once.
This solution is seldom appropriate for small or medium-sized networks, however. Not only is the cost of the hardware daunting, it can require the purchase of software licenses for each access point.
The third (and simplest) method of managing multiple access points is a process called clustering. Once you set up and configure a single access point, those settings are all automatically pushed to the other access points in the cluster. If you later need to make changes to the access points, you only have to alter one access point in order for those changes to apply across the board.
The only caveat with clustering is that the access points must be wired to the network, typically with Gigabit Ethernet. This is a standard practice with multiple access points, whether they are clustered or not, since it allows for firmware updates to be installed without bringing down the entire network.
Advantages of Clustering for Small Businesses
Access point clustering is the obvious solution for most small businesses, and many enterprise-scale networks. Clustering doesn't require investing in expensive controllers, software licenses, or highly trained specialists.
If you have multiple Wi-Fi networks or require different configurations for access points on the same subnetwork, you can set up additional clusters. For example, one cluster of access points can allow guest access, while other clusters allow access to employees only.
Why Choose Clustering?
The advantages of controllerless access point clustering are two-fold: simplicity and cost-effectiveness. If you can set up and manage a single Wi-Fi router, you can configure dozens of access points quickly and efficiently with clustering—no technical training required, and no costly fees to hire a professional.