• United States
Senior Editor

Commentary: Get ready for the WLAN sales pitch

Apr 04, 20033 mins
MobileNetwork SecuritySmall and Medium Business

Wireless LAN “switches” will make WLANs a lot easier to deploy, run, manage and secure. That’s the idea, anyway, and the sales pitch.

By now, network executives can be forgiven for a certain level of skepticism after having heard so many sales pitches. And in this case, the skepticism will be an important element in properly evaluating this not-quite-yet-emerging class of products.

Kevin Tolly, president of The Tolly Group and a Network World columnist, talked with me about wireless switches this week and had some sound cautions for network executives.

The basic idea of wireless switches, he says, is sound: taking a top-down view of the WLAN, the same kind of view that exists today in the wired LAN. The reason that is needed is because WLANs today are simply individual wireless access points plugged into a wired switch. A whole host of point products, both hardware and software, are aimed at compensating for this basic reality.

Enterprise net managers report problems in locating and keeping score of wireless clients, optimizing bandwidth and upgrading such clients as well as the hundreds of access points installed. All that as the enterprise demand for mobility — for being able to carry your computing around with you and use it anywhere — continues to grow. The more wireless access points you deploy, the more complex they become.

Wireless switch vendors promise to fix all this by marrying wireline switches with proprietary software that lets clients move freely among access points. This should also help enterprises create a centralized application of access and authentication polices for all wireless clients, and provide measurements and data about the wireless medium — radio waves.

If they can do this, Tolly says, net executives may very well be willing to pay a premium to be able to integrate these two network edges — wireline and wireless.

But this comes at a price that’s more than just dollars, Tolly warns. Each of the vendors, in the absence of any de facto or de jure standards, is making up their own standards. They embrace standards wherever possible, Tolly says, such as 802.1x for authentication. But as yet there is no accepted standard for higher level management and mobility.

That may be changing with the work of the recently formed IEEE 802.11k working group, whose mission is to standardize lower layer measurements and data that can then be used by higher level management applications. For more information on the working group see Network World Fusion’s Wireless Research Center .

But for now, each vendor has its own system for doing this. That means, network executives will have to accept one vendor’s approach and implementation. You won’t be able to swap out and replace a WLAN switch like you can with today’s wireline switches.

Evaluating these new systems will be much more difficult than going through a checklist of features on a wireless access point.

Network IT groups can start gathering data now on WLAN switches and vendors, and doing the groundwork that will let them ask probing questions when the vendors come calling.

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.

More from this author