Wireless Networks Add Enterprise Features - InformationWeek

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3/4/2003
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Wireless Networks Add Enterprise Features

Vendors ease management pains with centralized wireless LANs and access points

Wireless networking is one of the most dynamic new technologies around today. But it wasn't long ago that wireless networks were novelties, and they don't yet have much presence in business-computing environments. However, a wave of new products is adding the features necessary to convince business-technology managers that it may be time to cut the wire.

Several new systems being introduced this week at the NetWorld+Interop show aim to centralize the intelligence of wireless LANs and provide the same level of security, stability, scalability, and manageability available in wired networks.

One change is the move away from smart wireless access points. Since each access point has intelligence built in, it has to be configured where it's installed, generally by plugging in a laptop. That can make wireless LAN management a brutish task, especially when a company wants to employ dozens or even hundreds of access points.

Startup Airespace Inc.'s first product, the Wireless Enterprise Platform, includes a wireless LAN switch, access points, and control software that centralizes the intelligence of the system inside a wiring closet. The system's software handles most of the difficult tasks of wireless LAN configuration. The access points are automatically given IP addresses when plugged into the network, and they then go looking for each other to set up connections. Airespace hasn't disclosed pricing. Aruba Wireless Networks also is rolling out a switch-based wireless LAN; the Aruba 500 base station starts at $17,000 and access points are priced at $200.

For companies with large installations, centralized management makes sense, says Pat Hurley, an analyst at consulting firm TeleChoice. "An enterprise can save a lot of time and money by doing it this way," he says. "The installation process is minimal, and the amount of time to configure becomes zero."

Chantry Networks Inc. has a different approach, which it describes as the first large-scale wireless LAN system based on IP routing technology. Its BeaconWorks line of products puts the smarts of the system in a box that resides in a company's central server farm. Access points are then plugged into an existing IP network, where they communicate directly to a single controller. Chantry's system costs between $20,000 and $35,000.


John Southard, executive director of IT at the New York Institute of Technology. Photo by Sacha Lecca.

A strong partner helps in deploying wireless LANs at the NYIT, executive IT director Southard says.
These systems and others should help address some of the concerns of IT managers. But there's more to making wireless work than good hardware, says John Southard, executive director of IT at the New York Institute of Technology. He has just set up wireless LANs from Symbol Technologies Inc. in student dormitories and is rolling out wireless networks across three campuses. "You can buy this stuff and deploy it yourself, but you really need a good partner who has engineering experience," he says. "A lot of this stuff isn't mature yet, and things are going to break."

Other vendors this week plan to introduce new wireless products. Cisco Systems is showing off a wireless voice-over-IP phone. The Cisco 7920 looks like a cell phone, costs $595, and ships in June. The company also is developing a combo phone that works on cellular networks and on low-cost systems using Wi-Fi technology, which is increasingly available in public places.

Photo by Sacha Lecca

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