Unified Switches: Get Ready

The WLAN switch is dead. Long live the unified switch

October 3, 2006

2 Min Read
Unified Switches: Get Ready

5:45 PM -- My, how things change -- but, in the case of wireless switches, at least, rather predictably. Remember the wireless switch? Truly a fabulous idea, along with the thin AP. And we saw quite a number of these over the past four years, in almost every shape and size, from Layer 2 to Layer 3 to appliances that really weren’t switches at all. One might think that the evolutionary conclusion to the wireless switch would be nigh, as we should be able to define quite precisely just what a wireless switch is. And one would be partially right.

Because the wireless LAN switch as we know it has, in fact, reached its logical conclusion. It’s not, of course, going away, although it’s not going to remain in its present form much longer. When you think about it, there’s very little difference between a wireless switch and a wired switch -- it’s really just a matter of software, and a lot of that software, primarily related to the management console, doesn’t need to run on the switch at all. I estimate that there’s about a 10 percent difference between wired and wireless switches in terms of overall functionality, and that’s mostly related to such wireless LAN specifics as Layer 2 security and other elements required by 802.11 and WiFi.

But that point above about commonality is key. Think, then, about unifying wired and wireless switches into a single, new class of switch – what we’re now calling the unified switch. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has been talking these up via its 3750G family, and 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) has just announced a unified switch aimed squarely at the small/medium business space -- well away from Cisco’s products, but a dandy opportunity regardless. 3Com’s products are inexpensive and appear quite robust in terms of functionality. I really like the everything-in-one-box approach for smaller enterprises, and I think this product will do really, really well once the channel becomes familiar with the numerous advantages of the unified approach.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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