Strix Systems

Wireless networking all the way

Strix Systems Calabasas, Calif.

Location:Calabasas, Calif.

Company name: CEO Bruce Brown, a native Iowan who "knows a lot about barn owls," coined this name from the Latin equivalent. The metaphors are rich: Owls do their best work in the dark, they're ruthless predators and they're wise.

How did the company start? In April 2000, Brown teamed with five others, most from telecom software vendor Vertel, to create Bluetooth radio products. They switched focus to 802.11 WLANs in summer 2002, with Bluetooth deployments failing to catch on.

Funding: $34 million, including a $15-million fourth round that closed in October 2003.

CEO: Brown is formerly CEO of Efficient Networks, a DSL equipment maker acquired by Siemens AG in early 2001.

Products: Access/One Network.

Wireless networking all the wayThe big irony, and headache, of WLANs has been the fact that "wireless" only referred to the connection between the client device and the access points. The access points themselves had to be connected via Ethernet cable to Ethernet switches, just like any other part of the wired infrastructure.

Strix actually proposes to make wireless LANs . . . well, wireless (see story about Strix' launch).

The company's Access/One Network product is a stackable set of modules, each roughly the size of a typical paperback book. The only wire each stack needs is a power cable. You can select a client connect module with either a 802.11b, g or a WLAN radio, to link to notebooks and other wireless clients.

One of the modules is a dedicated 802.11a 54M bit/sec radio, which replaces the Ethernet cable that traditionally connects a WLAN access point to an Ethernet switch. Proprietary mesh and routing algorithms, running in another module with security and network management software, route WLAN traffic through a group of these stacks.

One stack, or two if you want a redundant connection, incorporates a module with a 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet port to connect the entire mesh via one cable to a LAN switch. The antennas used by the radios are in a module that caps the stack.

Strix also offers a Bluetooth radio module. It says modules for other wireless technologies, such as ultra wideband or radio frequency identification, are future possibilities.

To install, you plug the stacks into a nearby electrical socket, switch them on, and the Strix software allows each stack to discover and connect with its neighbors. A wireless laptop or other device associates with a stack and the laptop's data traffic hops, via the 802.11a backhaul signal, through the mesh to a stack that's cabled to the corporate LAN.

The network is intended to be monitoring and adjusting itself continually to cope with changes in client density, traffic loads, signal variations and network problems.

Access/One has been shipping since July 2003. Customers include Premiere Radio (a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications), Lieberman Research Worldwide, Pacific Coast Cabling and the Central Texas Parole Violator Facility. Fully installed Access/One nets with all management software cost less than $1,000 per stack, the company says, depending on what modules are selected.

Strix is not alone. Start-up Firetide also uses the wireless backhaul idea. Companies such as BelAir, MeshNetworks and Tropos have introduced wireless mesh products, although many of these latter vendors are geared toward public safety and other outdoor applications. Strix is one of the few focused strictly on indoor enterprise deployments.

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