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Automated WLAN deployment tools en route

Apr 14, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Next-gen WLANs take aim at large installations

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for awhile, you know that next-generation wireless LAN equipment is being designed to drive 802.11-based networks out of their longtime vertical-market comfort zone and into mainstream business applications.

Both traditional and start-up vendors have been building products that divvy up certain network tasks between distributed radio access points (AP) and a corresponding collapsed-backbone device. The back-end device, often called a “wireless LAN switch,” applies some number of network services to the wireless environment and possibly also to the wired network, depending on vendor implementation.

Though they are slicing and dicing network tasks in various ways, vendors are moving generally toward centralized management and security. The goal is to deliver greater scalability by reducing the time and cost of configuring, upgrading, securing, troubleshooting, and managing APs as they proliferate beyond a half dozen or so. This means that many vendors’ APs are becoming “thin” or downright “dumb” (and less expensive).

These architectural trends demonstrate that WLANs are at a crossroads. These networks require centralized, automated tools to enable successful deployments in very large installations or they’re just never going to fully penetrate the office environment on a large scale.

Start-up Trapeze Networks is one company that realizes this and, after a suspenseful year or so in stealth mode, is spilling the details of its WLAN products this week. The company’s offerings include an integrated wireless/wired Ethernet LAN switch and a crown-jewel toolset that integrates security with the wired infrastructure, moves WLANs and data paths in sync with the mobile user, and has many other innovative features. One in particular that holds a lot of promise is an automated site-survey capability, which I’ll detail next time.