What’s Up With Cisco’s 5760?

So the new 5760 Controller is here. It’s IOS based, it supports 1000 APs, it has 10 Gig interfaces at long last… what’s not to love?

Plenty, actually. At least right now.

Cisco’s wireless controllers are fairly complicated beasts, especially on large networks that use multiple SSIDs with differing feature sets across each one. With each code release, more features get unleashed, which ups the complexity in exchange for capabilities like RF Groups, application visibility and control, rate limiting, and Clean Air. This complexity pretty much demands that multiple controllers and lots of APs serving huge volumes of clients be managed by the likes of WCS, NCS, Prime NCS,  Prime Infrastructure, Supreme Excellent Unificated Management Suite, or whatever we call Cisco’s wireless management platform this week. It can be challenging to stay on top of Cisco’s endless parade of new features, capabilities, bugs, interface changes, gaps between CLI/Controller UI/Management UI, licensing changes and other nuances, but that is the nature of the beast. We can do complex, even quirky.

For wireless controller code, we have other challenges. Some versions are to be avoided by even Cisco’s recommendations (?) while others are the darlings that we all love. If you want stable code, that’s not always the same thing as the latest code. You have to talk to SEs and TAC to find out what code is preferred, and what is the other stuff. (Who uses the other stuff, and why is it even out there?) Then there is the dance between controller code, Prime Infrastructure code, and the Mobility Service Engines. They all tend to have mutual dependencies. Complex, quirky.. again, we can deal with that.

Back to the 5760 Controller.

A controller that supports 1000 APs is aimed at big environments. Big wireless networks tend to require trending, configuration templates, and reporting- you know, management type stuff. This is why we all have PI or one of it’s earlier versions. But… the 5760 isn’t compatible with current PI (1.3). So, for now you get real-time views of client and AP behavior at best, if you can scrape what you need directly out of the 5760.

In fairness to Cisco, they did include the fact that the 5760 would not be managed by Prime until PI 2.0 in their January 2013 announcement on the new controllers.

At the same time, SEs and sales folks that know their customers’ environments arguably have a duty to say “you know… you can’t manage this thing in your version of PI- are you sure you want it?” That it was even released “unmanageably” is pretty confusing to me when I contemplate trying to support thousands of clients on a 5760 with no NMS after years of running a big WLAN.

The UI on the controller itself currently looks like a knock-off of the 5508’s interface (it actually strikes me as a phishing-kinda cheesy copy of a real UI). And… many of it’s features are buried in the CLI, no exposure in the UI.

Speaking of features, AVC was a big thing when it came out earlier on other WLC versions- huge actually. Once you turn it on and start using it, you wonder how you did without it. On the 5760, you won’t have to wonder- you will do without it as AVC (and other big-deal features) isn’t in this biggest, newest controller.

Nor is preferred happy coexistence with 5508 controllers- unless you are willing to drop your 5508s back to 7.3 code, or wait for new 7.5 to come out sometime in the future. If you are on current 5508 code (7.4 train), you won’t seamlessly roam your clients with 5508s.

(I won’t even get into the HA thing that was touted when the 5760s were announced, that you can’t leverage yet either.)

Final word: today, the 5760 is almost like a real controller that you can’t yet properly manage. Things are supposed to get sunnier later in the calendar year for some of the limitations described here, but why didn’t Cisco simply wait until they had a more fully baked unit to dazzle us with?

This is just a bit weird. Are IOS and the 1000 AP count supposed to be the sparkly things that distract you from all the warts? Complex and quirky are arguably acceptable. Beta-quality and incomplete are other animals completely. Don’t we deserve better by now?

 Am I missing something? Would love to be wrong in my analysis…

Tell me what YOU think.

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