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Senior Editor

Cisco expands WLAN product line

Nov 21, 20054 mins
Cisco SystemsNetwork Security

New Cisco products take the next step in helping customers integrate wireless LANs with Cisco wired network gear and extending them outdoors.

Two new boards, for the Catalyst 6500 switch and the Integrated Services Router (ISR), centralize management and administration of Cisco’s thin access points inside network chassis, without requiring users to install separate WLAN controllers. Also, a 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, announced last week, 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 Module for the ISR. Cisco says it has sold more than 300,000 6500 boxes and over a half-million ISRs. The majority of those 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 as many as 300 access points. By comparison, a blade introduced before the Airespace acquisition supported 150 access points. Aruba Wireless Networks, another WLAN-controller vendor, offers its high-end stand-alone 6000 Mobility Controller, which supports 8G bit/sec of throughput and as many as 512 access points.

The Cisco blade works with the companion thin access points and existing Aironet access points that have been upgraded with additional software. As many as five blades can be installed in each 6500. Each blade bundles an array of Cisco network and radio frequency- management software, including intrusion-prevention features.

But the new blade lacks true integration with the Cisco switch fabric, Cohen acknowledges. 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 network. That will change over time, Cohen says, as Cisco adds software to tie its wireless networks into ambitious schemes such as the “self-defending network” project, which envisions a network that can automatically evaluate and adapt to network threats. But Cohen provided no more detail than other Cisco executives provided six months earlier on how or when this higher-level integration will be created.

Each WiSM blade costs $45,000, much more than the $18,000 charged for the first wireless blade introduced before the Airespace acquisition. The WiSM cost compares with $35,000 for the high-end stand-alone Cisco 4400 controller.

The Wireless LAN Controller Module for the ISR 2800 and 3800 series products manages no more than six access points, more than enough for the typical branch or small office. The module can communicate over a WAN link to a central Cisco controller or the WiSM. The central controller can send configuration and security settings for the branch office access points, and manage them remotely. This board is priced at $2,300.

Both boards are in beta test and are scheduled to ship next month.

The mesh product, the Cisco Aironet 1500, is the company’s late entry into a burgeoning market for outdoor wireless networks that can route packets among wireless nodes, thereby minimizing cable costs and sidestepping outages or radio interference.

The 1500 has two radios: it uses 802.11b/g connections with client devices, and 802.11a for backhaul and routing among the various nodes. The mesh can support up to eight hops, but Cisco recommends a maximum of four, according to Cohen. One or more of these nodes connects to any existing Cisco WLAN controller. The node is fully managed by Cisco’s Wireless Control System management application.

The 1500 uses Advanced Encryption System to encrypt links between mesh nodes, and supports Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2), WPA, and Wired Equivalent Privacy for client connections.

The 1500 is priced at $4,000.

Senior Editor

I cover wireless networking and mobile computing, especially for the enterprise; topics include (and these are specific to wireless/mobile): security, network management, mobile device management, smartphones and tablets, mobile operating systems (iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry 10), BYOD (bring your own device), Wi-Fi and wireless LANs (WLANs), mobile carrier services for enterprise/business customers, mobile applications including software development and HTML 5, mobile browsers, etc; primary beat companies are Apple, Microsoft for Windows Phone and tablet/mobile Windows 8, and RIM. Preferred contact mode: email.

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