We’re big fans of Ubiquiti UniFi products, it’s business grade wireless equipment for cost effective prices. One of the biggest advantages of using these products is being able to use a single software controller to configure the UniFi devices, it doesn’t matter if you have one or several at one or more sites.
In this tutorial I’ll show you how to setup a software controller on a cloud server that will allow you to manage multiple sites or multiple clients wireless networks using a Ubiquiti UniFi solution. A few examples of where this would be useful is if you are an IT consultant and you can re-configure wireless networks without actually having to go onsite. If you are a business with multiple locations, such as retail or a group of restaurants, you can remotely configure your wireless networks saving you a lot of time and money.
At the time of this article the current release firmware version is 2.4.6 which doesn’t support multiple sites. What you need to do is register an account on the Ubiquiti website and sign up for the Beta program which will allow you to download firmware version 3.2.1, that version will surely change moving forward.
Once you have an account and you login, you need to click on the account icon in the upper right and click on My Account which will take you to this screen. Join the beta program and you can now download the latest version of UniFi controller.
Next is where to host your UniFi server? You have several options available, technically it doesn’t need to have a windows server operating system, it could just be a Windows 8 computer. However, there a few requirements that the computer must have in order to work.
- The url or IP address to reach this server must be static and reachable from the rest of the internet
- Port 8080 must be open on your firewall, whether that’s a dedicated piece of equipment or the windows firewall itself
What you can do is rent an inexpensive VPS for a small amount per month and install the UniFi controller on there. It will have a static IP address that you can easily map a subdomain to and you can also control what ports to open. Let’s assume we go with a VPS option and we have a custom domain mapped to it, say unifi.mydomain.com.
So go ahead and install the UnfiFi controller and start it, you should now see something like this on your desktop. The UniFi Controller needs to be running to collect wireless stats, making changes and adopt new wireless devices. If everything is working normally then you don’t really need the controller running, the point I’m making is if the controller crashes or somehow shuts down all of your access points will still continue to work just fine.
With the controller started and assuming you don’t have port 8080 blocked you can either click on the button you see above to launch the browser or if it’s on a VPS and you are remoted in you can visit the server url, such as unifi.mydomain.com:8080 which will take you to the login page for your controller.
The default login should be ubnt for the username and password. Once you are logged in the very first thing you will want to do is add a new account, log out, log in with your new account and delete the default one.
On the main screen you will see a folded down window on the bottom, expand it and click on site admins. Create a new admin account for yourself, log out and delete the default one and you are ready to get started.
Before adding a new UniFi device you should create a new site first which you can easily do by clicking on the Site drop down in the upper left. In the drop down you will see a link to create a new site and give it whatever name you wish.
Now you are ready to add your first UniFi device. For the purposes of this example we’re going to assume you have a brand new device out of the box and you plugged it into the network.
In order to point the UniFi access point to your controller you have to use the UniFi discovery tool to find it on the network. On your laptop or any workstation that is on the same network install the UniFi software, this will include the controller and the discovery tool.
Launch the Discover tool and it should find the UniFi within a few seconds, click on the manage button.
Now here is where the magic happens. See the below screen and now you have to set the inform url to wherever your cloud server is. Remember this server must be reachable through the internet and port 8080 must be open on your server. Your Inform url should look like http://unifi.mydomain.com:8080/inform
Hit apply and now let’s go back to the controller login page and within a minute or so you should see the UniFi appear and ready to be adopted. If you don’t see it you can hit the refresh button in the upper right.
Now something to keep in mind is when the UniFi shows up in the portal ready for adoption it will show up in whatever site you have selected. So if this device is for site XYZ and you happen to have ABC site selected you will see it show up there. Simply select XYZ site and you will see waiting for adoption.
Once you have the correct site loaded up select the Access Points tab and you will now see the device waiting to be adopted.
On occasion I have seen this process fail. The adoption phase should only take a minute but I have seen it say disconnected right after selecting Adopt. If this happens I just reset the UniFi to factory default and start the process over again.
At this point you need to create your wireless network if you haven’t done so already. Chances are after you adopted the unit it will say firmware upgrade is needed and you should do that as well.
This type of setup has a huge benefit for both the end user and IT service providers a like. Imagine if you have a few UniFi devices at your location and you need to change the network password. With off the shelf devices you have to log into each one, change each one individually, making sure the password matches, etc. With a cloud server running the Ubiquiti controller you can change it in just one place and all the devices are configured the same.
If you own a restaurant or retail location and are in need of a cost effective wireless solution feel free to contact me for a free consultant.