Now Adtran has gotten into the action, buying wireless LAN vendor Bluesocket. Adtran is a manufacturer of low-cost, NetVanta-branded network infrastructure based in Alabama (it also sells carrier grade infrastructure to service providers) that sells mostly into wiring closets. BlueSocket is a Massachusetts-based, venture-backed startup founded in 1999.
Last year Bluesocket launched what it calls “virtual wireless LAN” or vWLAN. While most WLAN vendors still rely on a hardware-based centralized controller, Bluesocket has abstracted its controller appliance as software, allowing it to run as a virtual machine on a VMware host server. By freeing the WLAN control plane from a hardware appliance, Bluesocket offers solutions to two wireless networking challenges: scale and cost. A software-based controller is cheaper than a physical appliance, and the scalability of the controller is bounded only by the power of a customer’s virtual infrastructure. As more access points are brought online, customers can devote more computing resources to the virtual controller or add more virtual instances.
Prior to its transition to vWLAN, Blusocket’s largest controller appliance could support up to 200 access points and 4,000 users, according to Chris Koeneman, Bluesocket vice president of sales and marketing. In tests and trials with its virtual controller, the company has scaled up to 1,500 access points and 48,000 users. Koeneman noted that Bluesocket’s virtual controller could scale higher than that. It hasn’t hit a ceiling in tests yet.
Bluesocket’s was named a visionary on Gartner’s last Magic Quadrant for enterprise wireless LAN infrastructure vendors. However, the company is small and it was in the midst of building out a channel partner program. Adtran, on the other hand, is a fairly large (2010 revenue was $606 million), diversified networking vendor with a large sales channel, according to Gary Bolton, Adtran’s vice president of global marketing.
Bolton said Adtran will put its R&D budget into Bluesocket in order to integrate its products with the NetVanta line, particularly around network management and the consistency of network access across wired and wireless connections.]]>
And now Juniper Networks has finally acknowledged its inescapable attraction to WLAN, announcing yesterday that it had struck a deal with Belden to buy Trapeze Networks for about $152 million. Belden, a network cable manufacturer, bought Trapeze two years ago for about $133 million.
Juniper has become a strong Cisco alternative in the campus networking space with its growing line of EX switches, but the nature of office networks is changing. A great many offices today still have plenty of Ethernet cables and ports pulled to every desk. But more and more of those offices also have a wireless LAN overlay, so that employees can unplug their laptops and carry them to a meeting or the lunch room without losing network access. Yours truly has that option today.
It’s only a matter of time before some enterprises decide to cut down on the number of ports they pull to desks and start replacing some of the switches in their wiring closets with WLAN access points. Juniper is expanding and future-proofing its foothold in campus networks by expanding into wireless LAN.
Juniper will also have an opportunity to integrate its wired networking products with Trapeze’s WLAN technology. Wired and wireless integration, for simplified deployment and management, has been much hyped about these past couple years, but very little has been done in the area.
For some ideas on how that integration might unfold, check out Andre Kindness’s Forrester Research blog.]]>
When Belden purchased Trapeze some experts were left scratching their heads about the deal. Belden is a leading manufacturer of cabling and other signal transmission technology. Many analysts have been predicting consolidation in the WLAN market, but they were expecting switch vendors like Juniper and Foundry to do the buying as networking vendors looked to build out a unified wired and wireless product strategy. HP ProCurve’s acquisition of Colubris seemed to fit in with this trend. Just look at a company like Cisco, which can sell its switches and WLAN access points to the same people. It makes sense from a marketing perspective.
But Belden is trying something completely different with Trapeze, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Graybar and Anixtar already sell Belden cables, and now Belden is trying to expand those relationships through Trapeze.
Belden is hoping that when companies are designing the basic infrastructure of a new building, such as network cabling and power, they will also design wireless infrastructure at that stage as well. If this happens, it would make sense for companies to buy their cabling and wireless technology from the same distributor as they prepare to build a new building.]]>
Brian Johnson, director of public relations for Trapeze Networks, called me last week and implied that Meru Networks is receiving favorable coverage from Gartner over Trapeze. Gartner placed Meru in the visionary quadrant for the second year in a row, while Trapeze slipped from visionary status to niche player.
Johnson revealed to me that Tim Zimmerman, one of the Gartner analysts who wrote this year’s Magic Quadrant, is a former employee of Meru Networks. I checked around and indeed Zimmerman was director of industry marketing for Meru Networks from Octbor 2007 to January 2008. Johnson also pointed out that Gartner’s former research director for wireless LAN technology, Rachna Ahlawat, is currently the vice president of strategic marketing for Meru.
Johnson explained that Trapeze has had a good year and is a superior company to Meru. He said it “stretches the imagination” that Meru could be ranked higher than his comapny.
“We have a higher market share than Meru,” Johnson said. “We have more OEM relationships. And we are a public company with a large bankroll behind us while Meru is a private company that is rapidly burning through its cash… In terms of ability to execute, I think that Trapeze has a higher ability to execute than Meru can.”
Johnson also told me that Trapeze brought eight products to market this year and three of them won awards (I looked through a list of press releases on Trapeze’s website and didn’t see that many product releases, but perhaps I missed a few). He also pointed out that Trapeze won the largest wireless LAN deployment in the world this year when it closed a deal with the University of Minnesota.
Johnson was reacting to a story about the Magic Quadrant which I wrote last week. When I talked to Mike King, Zimmerman’s coauthor, for that story, he told me that Trapeze’s downgrade was reflective of its relative silence on the market since it was acquired by Belden over the summer. He suggested that things have slowed down at Trapeze while Belden goes through the process of absorbing it. And he predicted that Trapeze could lose some key OEM partners when its deals with those expire in a few months. All this can be fairly typical for mergers and acquisitions. Motorola experienced a similar decline on the Magic Quadrant when it bought Symbol Technologies, but it has since rebounded and is now identified as a market leader by Gartner.
Now any industry veteran will tell you that analysts take jobs with vendors all the time and research firms like Gartner commonly hire analysts from the vendors they cover. Ahlawat left Gartner for Meru in June of 2007 so it’s been well over a year since she’s had any relationship with the firm. However, Zimmerman left Meru less than a year ago, so it was worth my talking to Gartner about this issue.
First I talked to Andrew Spender, Gartner’s vice president of corporate communications. He said Gartner employs a variety of measures to ensure that its analysts are independent and objective.
“First we have our principals of ethical conduct and our code of conduct which all our analysts sign up to as soon as they join the company,” he said. “They have very intensive training in what that code of conduct means and how they need to adhere to it. It’s very specific in terms of accountability.”
Spender also said that no piece of Gartner research is ever the work of one single analyst.
“When you buy a piece of research or become a Gartner client, you obtain the research from Gartner, not from an individual analyst. Each piece of research is peer reviewed. Our community of 650 analysts have a formal obligation to do peer reviews of other analysts’ research to ensure that any kinds of inconsistencies, any errors of data collection or any errors of conclusions are challenged and corrected before the research sees the light of day.”
I also spoke to Larry Perlstein, Gartner’s ombudsman (Gartner is the only analyst firm I know of that employees ombudsmen), about this matter. He has already conducted an investigation of Trapeze’s complaint.
“Basically I didn’t find anything that made me concerned that there was any real fact in Trapeze’s issues. The analyst that they expressed a special worry about, who was formerly at Meru, was there for only a very short period of time, about three months. It wasn’t clear that anything in that involvement was going to dramatically influence this particular piece of research. Most of our analysts come from vendors. As part of our hiring process we try to ensure that people have the capacity and potential to be balanced and objective.”
On the same day that I spoke to Johnson at Trapeze about this issue, I happened to chat with David Callisch, vice president of marketing at Ruckus Networks. Ruckus is another niche player in this year’s Quadrant, ranked a little lower than Trapeze.
“Tim Zimmerman and Mike King are both very stand up guys,” Callisch said. “I thought we had a pretty mediocre spot on the Quadrant, but to be quite objective, who are we to say? Vendors always think they deserve a better spot… But Tim and Mike did a lot of due diligence. I think they did a good job even if we got a lousy spot.”
He said that Gartner placed Meru high probably because the firm likes the innovative single channel approach Meru takes with its access points, which solves voice roaming very well. He said he has doubts about whether this approach can scale as well as more mainstream wireless LAN technologies, but he doesn’t fault Gartner for giving Meru high marks for their technology.
Callisch went on to call out Trapeze for its acquisition by Belden. He said Trapeze has a very good product line, but it had marketed its technology poorly, driving down the value of the company.
“They ended up being sold to Belden for pennies on the dollar and that hurt the valuation of other [wireless LAN] companies” he said.]]>