Cisco AP – Autonomous or LWAP ?

Setting up an AP using IOS (Autonomous is the PC term to use now with LWAP mode also being available) has been the way we have all been doing it for several years since Cisco made the transition from Vxworks over to IOS. Although I have set up several AP’s using the web GUI, after a while, doing from CLI is far easier. It also makes the deployment of multiple AP’s easier because you can establish a script that can be tftp’d to the AP and take affect upon rebooting the AP. The trick here is that you use the following command – copy tftp startup-config. A little secret that I didnt learn until a couple of years ago was that you can put a DHCP pool on the management vlan where the AP’s management address will reside and the AP will grab an address when it boots up. This comes in handy when you are remotely deploying the AP and may not be able to get a console cable connection from the AP to a PC that you can RDP into to do the basic config. The downside with autonomous AP’s is when a change needs to be made company wide that you will need to make the change manually on every AP in the company. You can use some type of automated system to help push the changes out but you will still need to recheck every AP to make sure the commands took as expected and if necessary a reboot was successfully done.

The more AP’s and/or locations you have with one or more AP’s active, the more that looking at going to LWAP (Light Weight Access Point) starts to make sense. In the case of LWAP, you use one or more WLC (Wireless Lan Controllers) to manage the LWAP’s. Basically, an LWAP without a WLC is dumber than a box of rocks. When you need to make a change to the AP’s, you make the change to the WLC and the change is automatically pushed out to all the AP’s that are associated with the controller. In some cases, fortunately not many, the AP’s will need to reboot for the change to take affect. Most changes will require a “bouncing” of one or both radio’s in the AP. The disruption will be just a few seconds. The more AP’s you have, the more the decision to go with LWAP over Autonomous becomes easier to justify.

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