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Motorola shifts Wi-Fi smarts to access points

New code offloads controllers, boosts WLAN efficiency, reliability

By , Network World
October 05, 2010 05:44 PM ET

Network World - Motorola today launched new software for its existing line of Wi-Fi access points and controllers, partly reversing the wireless LAN controller architecture that its Symbol Technologies acquisition helped pioneer. The new software packs the access points with intelligence, and exploits their built-in processing power, to boost Wi-Fi network efficiency and reliability and lower operational costs.

Get ready for virtual wireless LANs

During a three-year engineering push, Motorola engineers rewrote the systems software for the company’s WiNG (Wireless Next Generation) branded controllers and access points, including the network stack. Part of the effort, in keeping with a WLAN industry trend, was to push controller-based intelligence out to the access points on the edge.

Two vendors, Aerohive and Meraki, have taken more radical steps. The former is shifting all control functions into its access points, with a separate management application; the latter is shifting them to a cloud-based service, with Web access. Aerohive recently upgraded its network OS, and Meraki added management tools to its cloud controller.

The software is being phased into Motorola’s existing WLAN products, starting now with the RFS 4000 controller and AP 650 access point. The software will be ready for the RFS 6000 and 7000 controllers and the AP 6511, 7131 and 7181 models during first quarter of 2011.

One result of the new Motorola architecture, dubbed WiNG 5, is to move local data routing decisions to the access point from the controller. The access point can route traffic to other clients (and in some implementations, even to other access points), reducing the load on the network and the controller. This can boost streaming video and VoIP performance and quality by eliminating the round trip to the controller, especially when that trip has to take place over a WAN connection.

Another result is a flexible approach to a wide range of control tasks – such as roaming, authentication, encryption and the like – that often can be handled locally by the access point, easing the processing burden on the controller.

In a live demonstration by Motorola, 80 laptop PCs simultaneously displayed flawless unicast video streamed from a server, through an Ethernet switch, to a single Motorola AP 7131, with a Motorola controller also connected to the switch.

There were two other demonstrations showing the power of the new architecture. In one, the access point detected a radio interference source that froze an attached laptop. The AP quickly relocated the laptop to a clear channel. In another, the access point’s L2/L3 stateful firewall quickly detected an unauthorized client streaming video and blocked it, causing it to freeze on another laptop’s display, while leaving unaffected an authorized video stream to the same laptop.

“I found the demonstrations fairly impressive,” says Craig Mathias, principal of Farpoint Group, a wireless consulting firm in Ashland, Mass. He cautions that there are as yet no mathematical models, or even direct performance comparisons, that can help users or even researchers assess different WLAN architectures. And the more traditional centralized controller approach of Cisco and Aruba has not kept them from being, respectively, number 1 and number 2 in WLAN market share for the enterprise.

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