What are the best Ubiquiti management options?

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

Right now, there are three to four options to host the Ubiquiti controller software. I do want to state upfront that I do prefer the cloud-managed architecture of a solution like ExtremeCloud IQ, so when I discuss cloud-managed options in this article, it’s not comparing apples to apples. These cloud options I will mention here operate differently than an actual ‘controller-less’ options.

With Ubiquiti networking products, you can use one of their cloud key solutions, run the software on a local computer/server, host it in your own data center (or AWS), or use a solution like HostiFi.

Cloud Key

The Cloud Key products are an excellent option for Ubiquiti hosting because there are no monthly fees. Everything is self-contained into the single box that is plugged into your switch and powered by either power over ethernet or USB-C. It supports up to fifty devices, and it allows you to easily access regardless of location by connecting it to your UniFi account.

This product is excellent for home use, but I’ve seen too many issues with upgrades to be able to recommend it for mission-critical environments. Restoring from a backup is easy, but I don’t want to trust my network to a ‘dongle.’ The only exception is here is if you use the UniFi cameras in the same management system, and then you’d want to use the Cloud Key Plus or the UniFi Dream Machine Pro. The Dream Machine Pro is an excellent option if you plan to use the UniFi firewall, and it does contain the controller software.

Local Server

The Ubiquiti network management software can be installed on macOS, Windows, or Linux. This option is free, but you’ll be responsible for maintaining the hardware in this instance on top of keeping a computer/server on 24/7. While the network can run without the management system online, it’s not ideal because you won’t be able to monitor your network or make changes without keeping a PC or Mac online 24/7.

AWS

Another option would be to set up an instance in Amazon Web servers. While you won’t have to keep a server running 24/7, you will still be responsible for the Ubiquiti network management software installation, keeping it connected to your devices, and running any updates. You’ll have a monthly fee associated with the hosted server, but it likely won’t be a high bill as the instance will have low usage. I have friends in the IT industry who have gone this route, and while it works, you need to have the technical know-how to install and maintain it.

Hosted Ubiquiti: HostiFi

While I was doing some Ubiquiti testing last year, I came across HostiFi. Hostifi is a combination of a hosted solution that you don’t have to manage yourself. You get all the benefits of a cloud-hosted option like using AWS while having a dedicated solution similar to a cloud key. Plans start at $49 per month and include up to 500 devices and unlimited.

The benefit of a solution like HostiFi is that once you ‘adopt’ the devices to a remote server, you no longer have to worry about UniFi controller updates. The team at HostiFi will handle all of that for you. If you are a managed service provider, you will be interested in being able to manage multiple customer locations inside of a single interface.

In my Ubiquiti testing, I became a big fan of this solution as it meant I could run UniFi networks in multiple locations from a single interface without having to buy numerous cloud keys. When I ran into VPN questions when working with a sudden remote workforce, their support team even walked me through setting it up as well. Overall, I don’t see a single downside to HostiFi. They offer automatic backups, managed UniFi updates, free SSL certificates, migration support, and a dedicated support channel.

Wrap-up on Ubiquiti management options

There are a lot of ways that you can manage your Ubiquiti network. One of the benefits of the UniFi product line is how flexible it is with deployment options. Their products are extremely low cost, but picking the right management option is essential to long term success. If you don’t need a local Network Video Recorder, and you’re running UniFi in a business environment, I believe that HostiFi is the best solution. Their support is fantastic, and it’s a dedicated solution for Ubiquiti management.

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