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.]]>
This new architecture allows an access point to perform some of the high-level security, policy and RF management roles that have traditionally been centralized in a controller.
At first glance it appeared that Motorola was going the way of start-up Aerohive, which has had a controllerless approach to WLAN from its inception. However, Motorola isn’t dumping the controller appliance altogether. It still has a role, but Motorola admits that the role is evolving. In fact, from what Motorola says, it sounds like everything about the WLAN controller is evolving.
Manju Mahishi, Motorola’s director of product management, told me that WiNG 5 is meant to give enterprises flexibility in deployment and to avoid bottlenecks associated with backhauling high throughput 802.11n data through centralized controllers. But he said that controllers will not be disappearing from Motorola’s WLAN architecture.
“We believe very strongly that in the vast majority of cases, depending on the number of access points in a local site, you can get away without having controllers. Up to 24 access points can be deployed without any controller,” Mahishi said. “But there are scenarios where we still see certain enterprises customers will still want to pull data centrally. They want to do all data processing through a controller, whether on specific VLANs or on guest access. Even though we see the benefits of distributed intelligence and having the access points doing all the work, there are still scenarios where [enterprises] will want to pull certain data if not all data through controllers, whether they are doing packet inspection or applying some security policies.”
He said there are some scenarios where the access points will simply not have the processing power to match Motorola’s high-end controllers. For instance, a highly subnetted network will require a controller. If a company wants to extend certain VLAN from a central campus out to branch offices, they will also use controllers to pull data back through a WAN.
Beyond the role of the controller, Mahishi said the format of the controller is also set for an evolution. He said Motorola’s OEM partnerships with Brocade and Extreme Networks are pushing the concept of a controller in a new direction. He said the ability to virtualize a controller and run it on a third party switching platform from one of these OEM partners could offer new ways of scaling a wireless LAN while simultaneously integrating it into the wired infrastructure.
“We can easily virtualize [controller] functionality,” Mahishi said. “When we were demonstrating WiNG 5, we were running it on a laptop. Clearly the intent is to be able to take this capability and run it on a cloud-based controller or any server-based appliance that can scale. The WiNG 5 architecture helps us get there.”
Networking pros will doubtless follow Motorola’s evolution of the controller-access point architecture very closely. Controllers from most WLAN vendors are extremely expensive and vendors like Aerohive and Meraki have made hay with customers by offering WLAN infrastructure that is free of a costly physical appliance. Aerohive’s access points collaborate as a virtual controller while Meraki offers cloud-based, subscription controller functionality, which transfers the controller function from a big-ticket capital expense to a low-cost, but ongoing, operational expense.]]>
As we know enterprise wireless LAN used to consist of a bunch of independent, “fat” access points that were basically islands of wireless with no centralized control. Then vendors like Aironet (now Cisco), Motorola and Aruba started introducing a controller-based WLAN architecture, which was much more scalable and (eventually) much more secure. This change opened up Wi-Fi’s potential from isolated hot spots to campus-wide, centrally managed deployments.
Now vendors vendors are pulling back the controller’s role in enterprise WLAN. Meraki has moved its controller functionality into the cloud, building access points that are smart enough to survive on their own when contact is lost with Meraki’s cloud. Aerohive has distributed most of the controller functionality throughout its access points, with a simple management and policy piece sitting on a server.
Enterasys-Siemens’ HiPath wireless LAN product line has also deemphasized its controller in recent years. The HiPath access points manage QoS, encryption and RF management on their own, leaving the controller to handle configuration and policy control and roaming.
Now Motorola has committed to smarter access points, too, with its WiNG 5 architecture. With a simple software update, all of the company’s access points will now run the same software package as Motorola’s controller appliance. Apparently Motorola’s access points have enough compute capacity to handle this new functionality.
Like every vendor that has pulled back the controller’s role in WLAN, Motorola says the speeds involved in 802.11n can lead to a bottleneck effect in the controller. Dr. Amit Sinha, Motorola’s WLAN CTO, said that backhauling everything to the controller isn’t practical, especially when it comes to voice and video communications.
In demos in Boston this week, Motorola showed that the access points are capable doing things traditionally reserved for its controllers. In one demo, an access point that was isolated from its controller was able to recognize and adjust to RF interference. In a second demo, the isolated access point was able to detect a rogue media server running unsanctioned streaming video over the wireless network and cut off the access to that server.
Finally, Motorola demonstrated that by making its access points smarter, it can boost performance. It streamed unicast streaming video from a single wireless access point to 80 laptops, which earned it recognition for a new record by an adjudicator from the Guinness Book of World Records.
What remains unclear to me: Why is Motorola keeping the controller at all. I know there’s a need for centralized configuration, policy and other management functions, but why does Motorola need to continue holding onto the standalone controller appliance. Can’t those management functions be run on an industry standard server or as a virtual machine? If the access points are able to run the same code-base as the controller, surely the access points can handle the data and control planes of the WLAN architecture on their own and leave the management plane to some simple software. Motorola probably has a good reason for this but I didn’t hear much from them about it during their announcement of the WiNG 5 announcement.]]>
KTVU-TV is reporting that the Contra County School District is using some combination of RFID and Wi-Fi technology to check students in and out of schools, to track their locations and to make sure they get fed lunch. Based on what I saw in the video, this seems to be some kind of real-time location system (RTLS).
The school district spent $50,000 on the system, which includes a series of sensors throughout the school and basketball jerseys that have an RFID and Wi-FI package embedded in the chest. The school district says the system improves security but it will also save 3,000 man hours a year by eliminating paperwork (teachers had to fill out paperwork every time a child entered or left the school and every time a child was fed).
The reporter for this story didn’t identify the vendor(s) who provided this system to the school, but he noted that it was based on technology commonly deployed in hospitals. There are a lot of RFID/WI-FI-based patient and asset tracking system vendors serving the healthcare industry. One of them probably adapted this technology for the school.]]>
Although the jury’s still out on how many enterprises are extensively using video (or plan to this year), Cisco would certainly like you to believe its ascent is as certain as the rising and setting of the sun. And why not? More powerful networks = more ritzy equipment for them to sell, right?
In the event that I’m eating my cynical words over the next few months, here’s an entertaining if not ominous look at what Cisco sees as the fate of enterprises that cheap out on video over WLAN:
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Just before the economy took a dive, Motorola announced vague plans for a corporate breakup. The company would spin out or sell off its struggling mobile handset division so that its networking businesses could thrive. Now it appears that success with smartphones built on Google’s Android OS (the Cliq and the Droid) has Motorola’s leadership more bullish about the handset division. The scuttlebutt now has Motorola selling off its set-top box and network equipment divisions and holding onto the handset division.
Will any of this happen? Hard to say. Plenty of big technology companies (Cisco, HP, Dell) have been in a buying frame of mind in recent months. But one thing is clear: I haven’t seen a single Droid advertisement that informs consumers that the hot new iPhone alternative is a Motorola product. If Motorola is planning to dump its infrastructure business and focus on handsets, why isn’t it associating its brand with Droid?
Meanwhile Motorola’s brand remains strong among enterprises (and telecoms). Motorola’s wireless LAN business is a top-five market leader (although it battles over scraps with companies not named Cisco and Aruba). Its enterprise mobility business (Good Technology) is a well-known brand. And Motorola still has a good reputation among public safety agencies, shipping and transportation companies and football coaches for its two-way radios and its radio dispatch systems.
I think the Motorola brand will survive 2010 just fine. The question is, which part of the company will hold onto it?]]>
In short, my answer was “yes.” But in long, if the title of this blog post is any indication, I was quite taken aback by what I heard from Burton Group senior analyst David Passmore in his first session on the “wireless everything” era.
When I spoke to Passmore last week in an interview on computer networking trends for 2009, I hadn’t quite realized that his future of networks meant the extinction of them.
In the first point of our interview Passmore stated, “Wireless is one [networking trend of ‘09] because there’s an increased use of mobile phones for both data as well as for voice. We’re also seeing enterprises using wireless LANs (WLANs) often as a substitute for wired Ethernet.” From these trends, he suggested that we would some day no longer need networks.
Consider this tongue-in-cheek dialogue between Passmore’s explanation of this at Catalyst and the audience’s reaction:
Passmore: For longer-term networking trends, we may actually see the disappearance of enterprise networks.
Audience: Blank, saucer-eyed staring
Passmore: You’re probably thinking, “How can that be?”
Audience: Those not nodding vehemently to his question are doing so internally, thinking “Yes, how can that be?”
Passmore: Well, we’re already seeing a shift from wired Ethernet access for the use of wireless LANs.
Audience: OK, but that’s still a network — hence the “n” in wireless “LAN”…
All kidding aside — what he meant was that Ethernet is very surely being replaced with wireless, which will then be replaced by 4G mobile cellular data. Does this seem probable? I think he has a valid point, but how soon will a transition like this occur? Will the network engineer have to move into wireless telecommunications in his lifetime? Who’s to say?]]>
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Today Dell’Oro sent a letter to Aruba, which I peeked at today. In it, Tam Dell’Oro wrote that her firm will “add a section to our Enterprise WLAN Vendor Tables with our 2Q09 report which reflects the data by manufacturer. That is, those shipments that are produced by Aruba, regardless of which distribution channel it flows through, will be reflected as Aruba.”
Based on that, Aruba’s market share in 802.11n access points appears to be significantly higher than Meru. Aruba moved 15,000 802.11n APs in the first quarter of this year (both Aruba and Alcatel-Lucent branded products) versus Meru’s 10,000.
It’s not clear to me at this time wheter Dell’Oro will start reporting OEM sales data in this way for other markets beyond wireless LAN.]]>
First up is John Marshall Law School, which is deploying an 802.11n wireless LAN network from Aerohive Networks on its Chicago campus. The school is replacing a legacy WLAN from Airspace (acquired by Cisco in 2005). The old system was presenting interference and attenuation problems within the school’s century-old buildings. Centralized management was also an issue. The school chose Aerohive from a short list that also included Aruba, Meru and Xirrus. The school chose Aerohive for its ease of deployment, controllerless architecture and wireless mesh capabilities, according to the case study.
Also this week, Aruba Networks announced that Virginia Union University has chosen their 802.1n wireless LAN to retrofit the wireless network on its 84-acre campus in Richmond (Click on this link for more information on Aruba’s specific solutions for the education market). The school had a network of independent, “Fat AP” access points that lacked centralized management capabilities and performance. Robert Gray, the schools IT director, said he chose Aruba’s AP-125 access points for their coverage and range. He is also using some of Aruba’s advanced management technologies, such as Adaptive Radio Management, Aruba’s policy-enforcement firewall and the AirWave Wireless Management Suite.]]>