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Optical/IP

Cisco Switches On

As expected, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) today announced its first wireless LAN switch, as well as updating its 802.11 management software and introducing a new outdoor access point (see Cisco Gets Wireless-Aware).

The switch, code-named "Screaming Eagle" but now boringly known as the Wireless LAN Services Module (WLSM), was previewed yesterday in these pages (see The Eagle Has Landed?). It is a blade for the Catalyst 6500 series of switches designed to be used in conjunction with the Supervisor 720 module and the 1100, 1200, or new 1300 WiFi access points (APs).

The Screaming WLSM is certainly Cisco's first stab at the wireless LAN switch market. But here's a revelation: The firm's senior VP and general manager of the Ethernet access group, Larry Birenbaum, claims that the module is also the first real wireless switch ever.

"This is the first wireless-aware Ethernet switch," Birenbaum said on a conference call this afternoon. "For no other reason than that the functions that are embodied in this module are inside a wired switch."

Okaaaaaaaaay.

What the WLSM actually does is enable Layer 3 roaming across a wireless LAN network. As we reported yesterday, traffic termination from the wireless LAN APs is handled by the 720 module.

This is important because it helps to enable applications like voice-over-WLAN and firewall security. Doug Gourlay, product line manager of the Internet systems business unit, says the system can enable roaming with switchover between access points in 50 milliseconds or less, which should be fine for VOIP applications (see Cisco's Home-Grown Roam). The switch is designed to be used in collaboration with the new edition (v. 2.7) of the firm's Wireless LAN management software (WLSE). "The WLSM aggregates control information regarding wireless traffic and sends it back to the WLSE," explains Gourlay.

The WLSE software has also been updated so that it now not only detects unauthorized, rogue APs on a corporate network -- but it can shut them down, too.

Overall, as Birenbaum and Gourlay both stress, Cisco's pitch in this area is all about the convergence between wired and wireless traffic on a network. The $18,000 WLSM module seems squarely aimed at medium-to-large enterprise deployments (up to 300 APs, which could mean anything up to 6,000 users) that probably already have a Catalyst 6500 onsite. "30 percent of the Catalyst installed base could easily take advantage of this," Gourlay claimed on the call.

Cisco has not yet given any indication of when we might see these features trickle down to smaller boxes like the 3500 series. Typically, Birenbaum notes, "advanced features" are incorporated "in large, enterprise-class products first." — Screaming Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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