Xirrus revamps its Wi-Fi arrays for the enterprise

Xirrus adds optional 450Mbps radios, beefier processors, new antenna design

Xirrus has revamped its Wi-Fi arrays, making the cake-like housing thinner, adding optional modular 450Mbps 802.11n radios, beefing up the on-board network processors, and boosting range and signal quality with a new directional antenna design.

In addition, the new XR series can be configured for as few as four or as many 16 radios. With up to four Gigabit Ethernet ports to backhaul the Wi-Fi traffic, the XR arrays are designed to create high-capacity WLAN networks. Xirrus executives say capacity becomes critical as enterprises upgrade to high-throughput 802.11n, and face the influx of Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, tablets and a host of other devices.

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From its founding, Xirrus, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has taken a maverick approach to WLANs: It bundles the WLAN controller with four, eight or 16 access points, and a special sectored directional antenna, into a single package, providing wide coverage and high capacity. Among its customers is Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pa. CMU made the unusual decision to choose two WLAN providers: Aruba for the classrooms and administrative areas, and Xirrus for dormitories and buildings housing bandwidth-hungry engineering and computer science studies.

The previous arrays were 19 inches in diameter, about 5 inches thick, and could be packed with eight, 12 or 16 radios. The new models come in either 13- or 17-inch diameters, and are just 3 inches thick.

The smaller unit, the XR-4000 models, can be fitted with four or eight radios, each one delivering either 300Mbps or, with support for 3 MIMO data streams, 450Mbps. The four-radio models support up to 320 users; the eight-radio unites up to 640. Both have two Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The XR-6000 models can have eight, 12, or 16 of the same radios. Total bandwidth ranges from 2.4Gbps to 7.2Gbps. They can support from 640 to 1,280 users. Each of these models has four Gigabit backhaul ports.

As with earlier models, the new XR line incorporates a multi-gigabit switch, wireless controller, radio frequency threat sensor and a firewall.

The interior of the new 4- to 8-radio model in the XR series Wi-Fi array from Xirrus

The per-radio pricing is aggressive, according to Xirrus executives: $250 for the 300Mbps radio and $300 for the 450Mbps version. The modular radios give enterprise IT more control over buying just what they need and adding radios as demand grows.

Each radio has a newly designed, high-gain directional antenna, covering a sector of about 60 degrees in the 5GHz band, and about 120 degrees in the 2.4GHz band. As a result, the antennas can sustain the higher 11n throughput levels over longer distances, and the sectored design devotes one radio to a group of clients within its coverage area, without side-by-side interference. Xirrus says the XR array can cover four times the area of a conventional Wi-Fi access point.

With the new hardware comes a new release of the company's WLAN management application, Xirrus Management System (XMS) 6.0. The new version can identify different types of Wi-Fi clients, and policies and reporting can be adjusted accordingly. The version can designate any radio in an array to act as a temporary or dedicated sniffer. It now supports more signatures to detect wireless intrusions. For the first time, XMS can run as a virtual appliance under VMware.

The eight-slot XR-4000 models and Xirrus Management System version 6.0 are available now; system pricing varies based on the number of radios per array, the choice of 300Mbps or 450Mbps radios and chassis configurations. The 16-slot XR-6000 models will be available in December. The XR's modular radio design means you'll be able to plug in 60GHz, 802.11ac radios, with gigabit throughput ("The Next Wi-Fi," as Network World blogger Craig Mathias calls it in a recent blog post) as these become available, probably starting in the first half of 2012.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

Email: john_cox@nww.com

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