Cisco's moved to a thin AP architecture. Why should its APs be left behind?

In discussing the so-called "brain transplant" option for migrating from distributed to centralised wireless LAN architectures, I referenced initiatives by thin access point/controller startup companies. These programs enable certain models of other vendors' legacy APs to be managed by the newer companies' controllers.

If you are a traditional Cisco Aironet wireless shop and wish to move to a centralised architecture within the Cisco environment, Cisco has its own brain-transplant alternative. You can download a free utility from the Cisco Web site, which you run on a PC. From there, you can push out reconfigurations simultaneously to six existing autonomous APs (a conversion rate of about 100 APs an hour, the company says) to render them "thin." Once reconfigured, they automatically discover and become manageable by Cisco's own WLAN controllers using the Lightweight Access Point Protocol (LWAPP).

Moving forward in the centralised environment, you can purchase LWAPP-enabled Cisco 1000 series lightweight APs (dual-band products inherited by Cisco with its acquisition of Airespace in March 2005) or a number of Cisco's older APs that are now
available in both lightweight and autonomous versions. Among those that can be reconfigured to run LWAPP or can be purchased already in lightweight, LWAPP-ready mode:

  • Aironet 1240AG Series (dual-band)
  • Aironet 1230AG Series (dual-band)
  • Aironet 1200 Series (single-band)
  • Aironet 1130AG Series (dual-band).

What's the difference among these APs and how do you choose the appropriate one(s)?

Matt Barletta, a director in the technical marketing group of Cisco's wireless network business unit, says that, generally speaking, the company recommends the 1000 Series lightweight APs for new "Greenfield" deployments, and that the 1000 and 1130 devices are most suitable for general office areas.

"The 1200s are designed for harsher environments, with a ruggedised design and a number of antenna options" for accommodating transmission requirements in difficult or unusual locations, he explains.

The older Aironet 340 and 350 APs, which run the VXWorks operating system rather than Cisco IOS Software, are not LWAPP-upgradeable. Cisco provides separate instructions on how to convert these to lightweight mode.