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Cisco moves to integrate WLANs with wired networks

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November 15, 2005 04:52 PM ET - Cisco released gear to help customers integrate wireless LANs with Cisco wired network gear and extending them outdoors.

Two boards, for the Catalyst 6500 switch and the Integrated Services Router (ISR), centralize management and administration of Cisco’s thin access points inside existing network chassis, without requiring users to install separate WLAN controllers. The new outdoor mesh access point finally brings Cisco into a burgeoning market that's been dominated by rivals such as BelAir, Nortel, Strix, and Tropos.

All three products are based on technology developed by WLAN switch vendor Airespace, acquired by Cisco earlier this year to create a wireless architecture of stripped down access points linked to a central switch, now dubbed a controller.

The two boards are the Cisco Wireless Service Module (WiSM) for the 6500 and the Cisco Wireless LAN Controller Moduel for the ISR. Cisco says it has sold more than 300,000 6500 boxes and more than 500,000 ISRs. The majority of both products can accept the new boards, according to Alan Cohen, senior director of product management for Cisco’s Wireless Network Business Unit.

The new 6500 blade incorporates the guts of a Cisco WLAN controller. Each blade delivers 8G bit/sec of throughput, and can manage up to 300 access points. By comparison, a previous blade introduced before the Airespace acquisition, supported just 150 access points. Aruba, another WLAN controller vendor, offers its high-end standalone 6000 Mobility Controller, which supports 8G bit/sec throughput and up to 512 access points. The Cisco blade works with both the companion thin access points and existing Aironet access points that have been upgraded with some additional software. Up to five blades can be installed in each 6500. Each blade bundles an array of Cisco network and RF management software, including intrusion prevention features.

But the new blade currently lacks true integration with the Cisco switch fabric, Cohen acknowledged. The WiSM simply shares the 6500’s Supervisor module, which provides the switching fabric for the entire chassis, moving traffic across ports on different line cards inside the switch. And if the chassis has modules for a firewall or intrusion detection service, the WiSM can make use of these features, according to Cohen.

But the actual management, administration, and security for the WLAN is still handled separately from the wired net. That will change over time, Cohen says, as Cisco adds software to tie its wireless nets into ambitious schemes like the “self-defending network” project, which envisions a network that can automatically evaluate and adapt to network threats. But Cohen provided no additional detail over what other Cisco executives provided six months earlier on how or when this higher level integration will be created.

Each WiSM blade is $45,000, dramatically higher than $18,000 for the first wireless blade introduced before the Airespace acquisition. The WiSM cost compares to $35,000 for the high-end standalone Cisco 4400 controller.

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