APs can be categorized as either autonomous APs or controller-based APs.
Autonomous APs, sometimes referred to as heavy APs, are standalone devices configured using the Cisco CLI or a GUI. Autonomous APs are useful in situations where only a couple of APs are required in the network. Optionally, multiple APs can be controlled using wireless domain services (WDS) and managed using CiscoWorks Wireless LAN Solution Engine (WLSE).
Note: A home router is an example of an autonomous AP because the entire AP configuration resides on the device.
Figure 1 displays an autonomous AP in a small network. If the wireless demands increase, more APs would be required. Each AP would operate independent of other APs and require manual configuration and management.
Controller-based APs are server-dependent devices that require no initial configuration. Cisco offers two controller-based solutions. Controller-based APs are useful in situations where many APs are required in the network. As more APs are added, each AP is automatically configured and managed by a WLAN controller.
Figure 2 displays a controller-based AP in a small network. Notice how a WLAN controller is now required to manage the APs. The benefit of the controller is that it can be used to manage many APs.
Note: Some AP models can operate in either autonomous mode or in controller-based mode.