With Version 5.1 of its BlueSecure 5000 controller (BSC 5000), BlueView Management Suite, and companion APs, BlueSocket goes a long way toward eliminating IT managers' concerns about the risks of wireless networking. For example, you can implement secure wireless connections using 802.11 a/b/g, place firewalls between your wireless users and the rest of the network, and provide open Internet access to guests, all while still controlling network access.

And that's just scratching the surface. You can also enforce user security policies, search for and neutralise rogue APs, seek out nearby wireless networks that might interfere with your own, and figure out who's using your wireless network.

With all of this going on, you'd think that getting started with BlueSocket's products would be a major undertaking. It's not. This is an update of the WG-5000 product (reviewed here with increased security and networking features), which keeps the benefits of the previous product.

Initial configuration is well-documented and fairly simple, consisting mostly of setting IP addresses, picking names and passwords, and so forth. From start to finish it takes only a few minutes, and much of the work is performed using the BSC's Web interface.

About the only setup challenge is deciding where to attach the two Ethernet ports on the rear of the BSC 5000. The ports are labeled "protected" and "managed," which means that in the default configuration, you would attach the access points to the "managed" port and the wired network to the "protected" side.

But because of the unique flexibility allowed by the controller, you don't actually have to attach anything to the "managed" side; you can just plug the APs into your existing wired network (or even on the Internet, for that matter) and the BSC 5000 will still connect to and manage them.

Setting up - a choice of methods
Once you've connected the BSC 5000 to the network, you proceed to setting passwords, IP addresses, domain names, and other initial tasks; getting the BlueView management console up and running is a similar process. The controller can act as a DHCP server for the APs, which means you may not have to set those at all, thanks to the controller's automatic configuration features.

When you have everything running on the management side, it's time to figure out where to put your access points and how to integrate them into the network. The default method - and the easiest administratively - is to use a separate network for the APs, which I did for part of the wireless network. To accomplish this, you attach the "managed" side of the controller to a network that contains only the APs, and the two are quickly linked in the BSC 5000 and management interface.

You can also merge the APs with your existing network in one of two ways. The first is to create a DNS entry that will point the APs specifically to the controller - handy, but not all DNS servers will let you use this option; the second is to enter the address of the controller into each AP manually, which I also tried (this could be painful, however, for large companies). When that's done, the BSC will discover the APs and use their sensor abilities to scan the immediate vicinity for other Wi-Fi devices.

Getting good coverage
Here's where the BlueView manager really shines. You can upload maps and blueprints into the manager, then indicate the locations of the APs. You'll then get a visual coverage map of your installation that indicates the RF coverage for your APs and any other APs the sensors may have found.

You can still use your old APs with BlueView, but you won't get full functionality. For example, the ability to scan for rogue APs and the ability to shut down rogue APs requires BlueSocket devices.

The management console will also advise you if you need to find better locations for some of the APs to achieve better coverage or eliminate duplicate coverage. If you place the APs carefully, your wireless users can roam freely between access points.

Some of the most valuable parts of the BlueSocket APs are their built-in sensors. These sensors allow the APs to monitor and send data back to BlueView so that other APs in the area can be evaluated as to what kind of activity they have or whether they present a threat. This feature will also allow you to locate dangerous rogue APs.

A clear interface
The Web-based BlueSocket management interface isn't very sexy - it's mostly tables, drop down menus, and radio buttons - but it's clear and effective. And while there are a lot of choices, they're logically arranged by function and subdivided by specific tasks. This makes navigation easy and operation mostly intuitive.

Adding to the functionality, BlueSocket designed in the ability to separate users into specific groups, and to control what those groups can do and where they can go on your network. You might, for example, create a group for guests that will allow them to access the Internet while on your premises but not allow them to have access to your network. Or, you can give outside vendors or contract workers limited access to some parts of your network and not to others. Again, the BSC 5000's flexibility is key to these control features.

Overall, the BlueSocket suite of the BSC 5000 Version 5.1, BlueView, and the APs takes an already strong product to the next level. It's solid, secure, scalable, and very flexible. It even works to some extent with other vendors' access points, and will help you design your wireless coverage for the greatest effect. But for me, one thing demonstrated its true value: Now that the BlueSocket installation is being returned to its maker, my local users here are starting to complain that it - and its vastly improved wireless coverage - is gone.

OUR VERDICT

BlueSocket's combination of the BlueSecure Controller 5000 v. 5.1, the BlueView Management System, and the 802.11 a/b/g access point/sensors result in a wireless communications infrastructure that's flexible, customisable, and secure. The management system provides information and effectiveness beyond the norm, including the capability to seek out and neutralize rogue APs and enforce security standards.