Two Wi-Fi vendors are adding routers, coupled with cloud-based network management to create subscription networking services, both wired and wireless.
In effect, these new services from Meraki Networks and Aerohive Networks will let enterprises "rent" secure wired and wireless networking services, administered via an online management interface, without having to invest capital dollars in hardware and software.
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The services from both vendors are designed to be simple to deploy, set up and use. For both companies, a prime target is the small and medium business market, and highly distributed companies with branch offices.
Meraki has unveiled a family of wireline network routers. Like Meraki's Wi-Fi access points, the routers will be managed and secured by a cloud-based set of services accessed via a Web interface. Enterprise customers will be able buy and adjust a network infrastructure on a pay-as-you-go basis for an annual fee.
The Meraki routers combine four distinct functions traditionally handled by separate appliances: routing, application firewall, site-to-site VPN, and network monitoring. In addition, customers that have been relying on leased lines or similar WAN arrangements will be able to substitute for redundant cable modem or DSL connections for still more operational savings, according to Meraki executives.
The Meraki MX50 is for small branch offices, retail stores, and the like; it's priced at $400 per year, including maintenance. The Meraki MX70 is aimed at medium to large branch deployments, priced at $800 per year. Each will have a choice of two software "editions": the complete package includes all the advanced security features, including a full firewall; a second edition, lacking these features, is intended for use behind an existing enterprise firewall, and will cost less.
Both will be available starting Feb. 13.
Aerohive Networks is taking a different route -- by acquisition -- to a similar goal. The Wi-Fi vendor announced this week it has bought Pareto Networks, a privately held Sunnyvale, Calif., company. Pareto released in June 2010 a subscription networking service (based on several pending patents) aimed at mid-sized companies, and branch offices. The service included an on-site router, with optional 3G or 4G interfaces for wireless backup, VPN, SSL, a proxy infrastructure, and a Web-based management application. There were no capital costs, just the all-inclusive monthly fee.
In fall 2009, Aerohive released its own Web-based wireless LAN offering, HiveManager Online, a cloud-based version of the WLAN management application to manage Wi-Fi networks in branch offices and small to medium businesses. Aerohive's WLAN architecture eliminates separate controllers by in effect distributing control functions to the access points and the cloud-based management software.
Aerohive executives are saying they'll simply blend the relevant software code from both platforms into a new release of Aerohive's HiveOS systems software. The result will be local Wi-Fi access points linked, for example, to a branch office router with a WAN connection, offering office clients full routing and VPN capabilities, secure connections and a cloud-based Web management interface to administer, configure and provision the networks.
Aerohive will offer two routers based on the Pareto model: the BranchRouter (BR) 100, aimed at telecommuters, and the BR 200, intended as a branch office gateway. Also in the works: a cloud-based VPN concentrator that will run as an instance on a VMware virtual server.
The new HiveOS software, with the integrated Pareto code, and the routers will be available during the second quarter, according to Aerohive executives.
Pricing has not yet been finalized. Aerohive's offering includes purchase of its access point, and then payment of an annual subscription fee, while Pareto had no capital costs at all.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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