AirFlow's Scaleable Feast

Wireless LAN switch contender AirFlow Networks has upgraded its products so that all traffic processing on the network can be handled in hardware, a first that will result in major increases in system scaleability, the firm says.

Airflow says that with these updates to its chips and firmware [software on the silicon-level that talks directly to the chip] it will now be able to support up to 10,000 users per AirSwitch, with each box able to handle processing throughput of up to 1 Gbit/s. (See AirFlow's Second Coming for more on the AirFlow product line.)

"We'll handle very large volumes of traffic without any kind of degradation," offers Brian Jenkins, VP of product marketing [ed. note: you have to pay extra for the degradation, slave].

Chris Kozup, Meta Group Inc.'s analyst-Johnny-on-the-spot, proclaims himself impressed by the technology -- and expects that one day, all WLAN hardware will be built like this -- but wonders about the applications for all this extra number-crunching power at a moment when the enterprise market is still in its early stages.

"It's cool that they can do this," says Kozup."But… I think customers are going to ask, 'Okay, now how do I manage this?' "

Indeed, Kozup reckons that the move is indicative of a growing split in the enterprise wireless LAN market, as some vendors look to move up the software stack and become pure management players and others buff up their boxes, bringing more functionality down to the silicon level.

"We've already started to see it in this market," says Kozup, citing Roving Planet Inc.'s announcement last week that it wants to license out the hardware aspects of its system in order to concentrate on software (see Roving Planet Rakes In $9.5M).

"This is a trend that has happened over the course of networking history," Kozup says.

Bob Machlin, AirFlow's CEO concurs with this assessment, comparing his firm's upgrades with the way wired switch vendors like Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) built in hardware processing capabilities to their boxes back in the mid-nineties and changed the market.

"The trouble is the markets only going to be so big for the hardware players," warns the ever-optimistic Kozup.

— Dan Jones, Shire Editor, 1 Bag End, Hobbiton, Unstrung

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