UniFi Controller, why's it needed?

I’m new to the networking scene and have been wanting to play around with creating a homelab for myself. I wanted to run the usual setup with Pfsense, a unifi switch, and a unifi AP. I’m a bit confused on a couple things though:

  • Why is a controller required to use the switch? It must have at least a command line interface that the controller taps into?
  • Doesn’t Unifi switches and controllers have some Firewall capabilities that would make a basic setup not need Pfsense?
  • Why buy a Unifi switch that needs an extra controller instead of just any other managed switch?

Thank you for answering some nooby questions :slight_smile:
PS: Love the videos Lawrence if you see this

The Unifi line is Software Defined Networking (SDN). The controller is the single pane of glass to configure the SDN. If you’re not running a captive portal you only have to have the controller running to make configuration changes or update firmware. Unifi devices do have a command line, but I’m not sure if changes made there survive a reboot.

There are firewall settings in the controller, but you need a USG to use them. The switches are only Layer 2.

If you want to configure things on a per switch basis and use the command line, I would look at the Ubiquiti Edge line. You would still need the controller of the APs. So I personally don’t see any benefit.

Hope that helps.

1 Like

Is there any particular reason people purchase Unifi switches and purchase a cloud key to manage them when pfsense is already doing their firewalling and can be configured to be accessed remotely? I’m just a bit confused about the appeal since other managed switches sometimes have a GUI of themselves that run on the switch.

If you only have one switch there is no really advantage of using Unifi. The advantage comes when you have several switches and APs, and you can scale to having multiple sites. The ability to make a config change in a central location and push it out to multiple devices is nice. The alternative is having to log into each device and make the change a number of times. You also have the ability to push FW updates from a central panel.

The Cloud Key is nice if you don’t have any machines that are running 24x7 that you can put the controller on. I personally like to run it in a VM. The remote management is nice when you have several sites and don’t want to have to log into each one individually, you can just switch between them in the controller.

So basically, there is no significant advantage for home use to have a controller vs a single standard managed switch. You start to see the advantage when you start to scale. My home network now has 3 switches and 2 APs, and I might be adding another switch in the next few months. Even at this small scale it’s nice to have a single pane of glass for management.