By CWNP On 12/04/2007 - 5 Comments

What good is a piece of networking equipment if the end user can't effeciently operate it?  By 'operate' I mean install, correctly configure, and make on-going changes to. Hardware and software platforms in the WLAN industry have grown outrageously complex trying to meet the ever-growing demands of today's enterprise.  Sometimes organizations buy equipment based solely on specs, and soon thereafter develop a serious case of buyer's remorse due to useability problems.  Let's take the WLAN controller as an example.

What is the most basic function of a WLAN controller?  To serve up virtual WLANs. T hese are most often called WLAN Profiles.  Each profile consists of asic parameters such as ESSID, QoS, Authentication, Encryption, and sometimes more detailed parameters such as when, where, and by whom the WLAN Profile can be used.

The organization and presentation of these profiles should be the core theme around which all other features are built becuase that's the primary reason the WLAN controller exists.  Some vendors keep it simple, some do not.  Some vendors add hundreds of other features, and some do not.  Whether a controller has only the most basic features or is packed to the point of giving normal users a serious case of feature fatigue, the end user's experience should be a primary concern in the GUI and CLI interface design.

Most vendors have created reasonably useable CLIs, so their GUI is the primary focal point of this discussion.  The ideal scenario is to design a user-friendly GUI at the on-set of course, but that doesn't always happen. So what do we do after a GUI has reached negative critical mass?  An immediate overhaul or a long-term overhaul with a short-term wizard.

Is anyone else tired of playing musical browsers with all of these appliances?  Note to vendors: Give us Firefox support first, then IE7, IE6, Opera, and Safari.  I can't recall how many dozens of times I've heard, "Firefox support will be in the next release."  Nothing frustrates me more.

Something I just don't get is that one vendor can configure a profile in 5 clicks while it takes another vendor 25. Some features are buried under 6-8 layers of sub-menus - why?  If you are a VAR and reading this, ask yourself whether this kind of thing intimidates and frustrates you.  A poorly-designed GUI makes the initial and on-going learning curves excessively long which discourages resellers.

My overall take on this topic is that if vendors would spend as much time on their GUI as they do giving the end user feature fatigue, WLAN admins' and consultants' jobs would be a lot easier.

;soap box - end.

5 Responses to Useability

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12/18/2007 at 03:54am
Yes you are correct..

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12/09/2007 at 01:45am
For awfully simple, yet powerful wireless controller try Ruckus Wireless' would love it.

12/05/2007 at 10:53am

12/05/2007 at 10:35am
I'm not sure I agree. Sure, the GUI of most major controllers could use some work; but I don't agree that WLAN controllers should be singled out. It is true, that with the ever-expanding feature set of these products, more and more expertise is required for proper configuration. If a user wants to configure basic wireless services; including multiple SSID's with different security mechanisms; then the documentation is usually sufficient for the user to configure this themselves. If they want to implement more advanced features, such as load balancing, outdoor mesh, and location tracking, then that requires advanced knowledge of the product. That's why consultants have a place in the wireless market. Isn't the same true for any advanced technology? Most IT professionals are capable of configuring an ethernet switch; including multiple VLAN's, trunking, and SNMP for management. But when you start to implement advanced features such as QoS and L3 switching; many companies will bring in consultants who are specialists in that area. I'm glad that wireless networking is finally becoming robust and feature-rich enough that a certain amount of expertise is required for its proper configuration. I've been to far too many sales meetings where prospective clients have asked me that since their '16-year-old children set up a WLAN in the home, why do [they] need a wireless integrator for the office?' Over the last few years, wireless networking technology has matured. As network engineers, responsible for these technologies; so should our skill set.

12/05/2007 at 05:51am
I agree 100% that the GUI is getting too little attention. Even among products made by the same vendor, a certain feature is called in a different way and is configured/activated with a variety of terms. Consistency would be appreciated!

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