June 1, 2006
By Tara Seals
MANY ENTERPRISES HAVE installed WLANs over the past few years, but these initial deployments are often departmental and based on an earlier generation of equipment optimized for transactional data applications, like Internet access or e-mail. Now, the lay of the land is changing for wireless enterprises as they adopt an array of mobile devices and applications. In turn, this seismic shift is causing an earthquake of opportunity for sales partners.
In the past year, enterprises have begun considering WLANs as a front-line technology, says Wade Williamson, product manager for AirMagnet Inc., which offers WLAN administration and diagnostic tools for networking and security, mostly via channel partners. By its own momentum, the WLAN has gained legitimacy as a primary connectivity option, and its caused a big architectural shift.
The first tremor of enterprise WLAN deployment was narrowly focused; perhaps a conference room or one floor was unwired. This first generation also relied heavily on the so-called fat AP, a standalone, off-the-shelf access point containing all the intelligence necessary to set up a hotspot. The next generation of equipment ushered in the era of centralized management: wireless controllers or switches communicate with and orchestrate thin APs that are stripped of their intelligence this offers security and management advantages over coordinating a group of standalone APs, and is more tailored for the business environment. Now, a third generation of WLAN architecture is breaking new ground, built for pervasive, large-scale deployments that are meant to support real-time voice and data communications.
This presents an opportunity for partners to revisit old deployments and tap new customers with enhanced features and increased functionality. These include support for power-over- Ethernet, SNMP for management, WPA2 for security, multiple SSIDs for segmenting guest and internal wireless networks, and integration with wired infrastructure from a security and management perspective.
The top three concerns of the IT manager that I see are: support for all applications used today [including VoIP and multimedia], increased security [WPA2, 802.1x, ACLs], and advanced management [SSH, SNMP, SSL], notes Brian Nickell, product manager at SMC Networks Inc., which offers a range of APs and wireless bridges for indoor and outdoor applications. The new generation of purpose-built enterprise wireless options meets these demands, making the case for fully unwiring the business an easier one than in the past.
To make the sale, VARs need to offer demonstrable cost and productivity benefits. As wireless fulfills its promise as a primary mode of access instead of the second or third option, that means the bar has been raised in terms of adaptability and overall cost of ownership, says David Confalonieri, vice president of marketing at Extricom, which develops 802.11a/b/g wireless LAN technologies for enterprises. When you scale wireless, you have to do it easily and efficiently, and with less cost, complexity and risk than the alternative wired approach.
Meanwhile, helping the ROI model along is the fact that IT shops are starting to see wired equipment come off depreciation after a 2002-2003 enterprise buying spree. We may be at an inflection point, says Confalonieri. Something thats three years old is ancient in wireless technology terms.
While productivity and consolidation gains are nice, these alone do not make the business case for scaling the WLAN. What really does are the applications, says Ben Gibson, director of wireless and mobility marketing at Cisco Systems Inc., which has 3 million APs in service today. For instance, location-based services, such as inventory-tracking via tagged devices, can help partners make a business case around an ROI model. Gibson says inventory applications offer a 25-percent-to-30-percent reduction in IT asset loss.
Businesses are looking more and more at real-time applications, such as voice, along with data mobility, says Gibson. There are a host of new Wi-Fi-enabled devices beyond the PC, from dual-mode devices to things customized for health care.
Meanwhile, enterprises want to future-proof their investments in the face of the device explosion. Were seeing technology creep, so RFID integration and support for other wired technologies is coming into WLAN equipment now, and thats something businesses really want to prepare for, says Chris McGugan, senior director of marketing for the wireless infrastructure division at Symbol Technologies Inc. Dual-mode devices are the tip of the iceberg. Its not just nomadic workers with laptops anymore. So the question becomes, do I want more wired infrastructure that will possibly become obsolete, or continue with a wireless overlay?
To that end, Symbol recently launched its Wireless Next Generation (Wi-NG) architecture, which centrally manages radio frequencies regardless of the wireless technology. Enterprises can consolidate Wi-Fi, RFID, VoWLAN, mesh, WiMAX and other networks onto one platform, and provide persistent connectivity to dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi handheld devices. The Wi-NG architecture also includes Layer 3 roaming support for large-scale deployments, integrated RF management features to monitor and manage wireless devices, and tools to plan, evaluate and monitor the Wi-Fi network. A Wireless Intrusion Protection System also enables businesses to extend locationbased services throughout the enterprise, and quickly locate devices and disarm potential threats.
Symbols WS5100 wireless switch (see photo) will be the first product to leverage the Wi-NG architecture, and will offer switch-assisted 802.11 mesh networking.
Meru Networks also has launched a WLAN system that covers client access to the network core, eliminating wiring in the distribution and access networks for both voice and data. The Meru Wireless Backbone System can extend wireless networks that may have been installed initially for convenience into full overlay-overwired networks, or transform entire remote, branch or headquarter office networks into allwireless environments. Why replace one wired network with another? By going wireless, convergence and lower total cost of ownership now becomes a reality, says Ihab Abu-Hakima, Meru Networks president and CEO.
Creating a WLAN optimized for real-time applications and application-specific devices mandates that the wireless network infrastructure deliver the same levels of quality, reliability and predictability as wired networks. This brings its own set of requirements, such as sub-second roaming, which allows session connectivity as the user moves from one AP to another, simultaneous support for voice and data, and monitoring and dynamic RF allocation. Thus, partners can capitalize on professional services, as always. The easiest way [for VARs to add value is] through installation, support and network planning, says Nickell. Customers are looking to refresh old technology to more competitive enterprise access points. Site surveys and wireless planning are always crucial in the success of a large wireless deployment, which VARs and resellers can offer better than most.
The architectures that went before were more of convenience and less of plan. Now, enterprises are ready to embrace the WLAN as the primary mode of access. Partners can evaluate the business and the business applications, determining which ones need to go mobile and how to support them. Some have in-house expertise, but the majority of businesses need a partner, says McGugan. There is an immense opportunity for channel partners this year to get on top of this enterprise WLAN expansion.
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