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Network World - Ethernet switch vendors who offer combined or unified LAN and WLAN gear say the ultimate goal is to get wired and wireless network technologies to appear as a single network access layer. However, switch vendors and industry experts say this is still a ways off — both in terms of the technology, and the demand for unified gear from users.
"We're still in the early days of unified LAN/WLAN networks," says Craig Mathias, principal of the Farpoint Group, a Massachusetts-based WLAN consultancy. "I wouldn't say any offering is really complete at this point. It's an enormous technological and marketing challenge to get everything integrated together" — where switches, access points, management software are all unified with a single security architecture.
"It's going to take a while until we get to that point."
Many analysts and industry observers said that corporate WLAN technology — particularly, WLAN switch technology — would be absorbed by LAN switch vendors in the long run. The thinking goes that business IT administrators would prefer wireless and management of the WLAN integrated into a wired infrastructure.
Vendors such as Cisco, 3Com and others have offered WLAN for more than 10 years. But this gear was based on the thick access-point model, where an access point has its own IP address and is managed as a separate network element. In 2002 and 2003, WLAN switching emerged, with a new approach to wireless. Access points are managed as network-attached radios, tied to a centralized WLAN controller or switch, which provides central access settings, configuration and security. This is what is called an overlay network: The WLAN is essentially a second network, laid on top of the base Ethernet LAN. Security, physical-layer access and management are two separate realms.