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Are LWAPP political struggles looming?

Jul 30, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* Cisco's position on LWAPP

Last time, I discussed an emerging IETF effort to develop a Lightweight Access Point Protocol (LWAPP) for communications between stripped-down infrastructure radios and centralized management controllers, or “switches,” in 802.11 wireless networks.

In such an architecture, “radios become disposable light bulbs,” says Paul DeBeasi, vice president of product management and marketing at Legra Systems, one of the co-authors of the most recent LWAPP draft. Configuration, management, monitoring and security features hosted in any vendor’s LWAPP-compliant switch could control the radios.

While LWAPP could end up being a liberating development, we might be in for political struggles here that stall wireless LAN (WLAN) deployments. Consider the interests of the vendors. WLAN heavyweight Cisco – every enterprise-class WLAN-maker’s primary competition – voted against forming the LWAPP IETF Working Group, despite the fact that a Cisco engineer co-authored the draft’s original spec.

Cisco has made no bones about its disdain for the stripped-down radio approach and intends to retain its renowned IOS software-based intelligent network features supported in its APs. Note, though, that product line manager Ron Seide has conceded that, over time, the company’s newly announced Structured Wireless-Aware Network framework will give customers some options to run features either in their APs or in their Cisco router/switches.

“Different environments call for different architectural solutions,” Seide says. “For example, a campus network might have little use for RADIUS authentication services in the AP, because the RADIUS server itself is local. However, a branch office might put RADIUS services into the AP for redundancy; in the event that a WAN link to the central RADIUS server might be out of commission, local users could still authenticate via their APs.”

And what does Seide have to say regarding Cisco’s seeming about-face on the subject of LWAPP?

He says that a Cisco employee pursued the idea as an individual project. “But as we began to get traction and needed additional resources, we concluded that this [LWAPP] didn’t match up well with our customers’ requirements,” Seide says.  He adds that developing new wireless features, such as WLAN management, “took priority over standardization of this set of protocols.”