The role of Wi-Fi has changed in most companies and is no longer something that’s merely convenient. Rather, it’s critical to a business’s ability to ensure its customer are happy and workers are productive.
Given the growing importance of Wi-Fi, it’s essential vendors make products that are easy to set up, particularly for small businesses where the technical acumen of the person setting the product up is likely to be low.
HPE had inquires as to the importance of having the product be easy to setup and manage, and I said that I felt it was the most important attribute. In fact, I chose the solution for my house — which includes four indoor access points (APs), one outdoor AP, and a 48 port Ethernet switch — based on how easy the product was to operate. I’m very technical, but I really can’t be bothered to fiddle around with doing things in a CLI.
HPE was certain that their product, HPE OfficeConnect, would set a new bar for being easy to deploy and manage and asked me to test the product and write a review. I agreed, and they sent me a pair of access points and a small office Ethernet Switch.
Given the nature of this review, I feel it’s important to fully disclose my relationship with HPE. HPE is a client of ZK Research, with the relationship having been established through Aruba Networks, a company purchased by HPE in 2015. I agreed to the test and review of the product with the condition that HPE has no influence over the findings of the report other than to confirm things for factual accuracy if I had a question. There was no case in which I needed a fact check, so the review is solely my own.
I conducted the review in the following three areas:
- Hardware design
- Initial setup
- Ongoing management
HPE OfficeConnect hardware is well designed, but small improvements would be beneficial
HPE shipped me two of its OC20 access points (APs) and an OfficeConnect 1920 Ethernet switch. The APs are 2×2:2 802.11ac, with speeds up to 1.3GB. The switch has 24 10/100/1000 Mbps ports. Twelve have PoE+ power, and 12 are without. For a small business, this is more than enough capacity.
The Ethernet switch is a standard 1 RU configuration that can be rack mounted or placed on a shelf. It’s very quiet, and the ports are well marked, making it easy to identify the PoE ports. Anyone familiar with Aruba’s products should be able to tell that it had an influence on the design of the APs. Like all Aruba products, they are very sturdy and have a high-quality feel to them. Many low-cost APs are made of cheap plastic and can chip or break easily, but the OC20 APs are among the highest quality I have seen for a small business AP.
The only issue I had with the AP hardware is that the mounting brackets are enormous, indicating it’s meant to mount on the ceiling and not the wall. Also, the Ethernet ports are on the bottom of the AP so it can’t sit flat on a shelf or under a desk, which many small businesses prefer. A side mount would alleviate this problem. All Aruba products are designed this way, but they are built for enterprises; the needs of a small business are different.
Grade for hardware design: B
Initial setup of HPE OfficeConnect is fast and easy
This is the strength of the product and has the easiest setup of any business-grade product I have used. The speed and simplicity of setup actually rival many of the consumer products that are designed to be plug and play out of the box. One of the unique features of the HPE OfficeConnect series is that it can be configured and managed by the mobile app. To put this to the test, I conducted all tasks on my iPhone 7.
HPE designed the setup with small businesses in mind, so much of the process is automated. The first AP was plugged into a PoE+ port on the switch and powered on. There are two lights on the AP. After a few minutes, one of the lights turned from red to green, indicating it was ready to be configured. I opened the mobile app, and a message appeared telling me the device was detected. I then went into the portal and was able to easily set up the SSID and assign a password to protect it. Once this was done, the second light turned green.
Another feature I really liked was that the app prompted the administrator to set up a guest network. Guest networks are becoming increasingly popular for businesses of all sizes to provide Wi-Fi to non-employees. The app let the administrator configure the guest network with no security or with a password or Facebook login where the user must check in before being allowed to use the network. Once the configuration was done, the second AP was connected and it downloaded the configuration from the first.
Grade for initial set up: A+
Administrators have rich management capabilities in the mobile application
All of the ongoing management can be done via the mobile app. As can be seen in the below image, the home screen is organized into the following categories:
- System health
I’m not going to go through each item, as there is too much detail for this post. A deeper dive on each section can be found in my full report on zkresearch.com. Some of the highlights of the management tool:
* System health shows “Everything is OK” when all devices are functioning properly. This seems like such an obvious feature for a small office product. One quick glance informs the administrator the network is functioning correctly instead of having to drill down into submenus. This is also far better than the “Everything is OK” alarm that Homer Simpson invented.
* Granular view of usage through the applications tab. The data in this section isn’t as much applications as is it categories of apps. The admin has a view of several application categories, such as financial services, real estate, and legal. The information is organized in a pie chart, making it very easy to see how much traffic is going to each category. It is through this interface, too, that certain categories, such as adult content and games, can be blocked. I liked the interface, but I felt it lacked any detail as to what fell under which category. For example, is YouTube under Streaming or Social? There is no way to know except to go to the site, play a video, and then check and see which data changed. Also, there is no way to block a certain site, as the entire category needs to be blocked. While the granularity would have been nice, this level of information is likely sufficient for most small organizations.
* Robust client information. This is a fast and simple way to see all the clients connected to the network. The admin can click on any see detailed information, such as signal quality, which AP the device is connected to, and whether it’s connected at 2.4 or 5.0 Ghz. All of this information is important in the troubleshooting process.
Grade for ongoing management: A
After testing the HPE OfficeConnect series, it’s my opinion that it is ideally suited for small to mid-size businesses because of the ease of setup and ongoing management. And I can confirm HPE’s claim they are the simplest product.
Overall grade for HPE OfficeConnect: A
For those looking for more details about HPE OfficeConnect, a full review can be found on zkresearch.com