Cisco is calling the update its "structured wireless-aware networked infrastructure enhancements," or SWAN for short. [Ed. note: Does that make its previous kit an ugly duckling?]
The No. 1 provider of enterprise access points is initially adding more smarts to its existing fat radio nodes and the Wireless LAN Solution Engine (WLSE) management appliance (see Cisco’s LAN Switch: Build or Buy?). Cisco will follow this up in 2004 with IOS software upgrades that allow access point features to be controlled via a number of Cisco's switches (see Cisco's Switch Ambition).
The move is a logical one for the networking giant, which analysts say needs to keep its customers happy and respond to the emerging challenge of centrally managing WLAN networks. The planned updates allow Cisco to exploit its massive installed base of wireline switches and Aironet access points without potentially losing revenue through the introduction of cheaper, "thin" access points, which are almost entirely managed by the central switch and have no mind of their own. (See Vivato's Switch Bitch for a potted history of how these devices are evolving.)
Here's the SWAN roadmap:
The upgrades will also facilitate "fast, secure roaming" among access points, according to Pej Roshan, product manager in Cisco's wireless networking business unit. He says they'll also provide support for applications like voice-over-WLAN (see Is 802.11 Ready for VOIP?).
Analysts see this as Cisco's first step toward merging the wireless and wired capabilities in its switching architecture.
"I think this is certainly phase one in a larger wired and wireless integration push across departments in Cisco," says Abner Germanow, analyst at IDC.
Meta Group Inc.'s Chris Kozup concurs, but thinks that Cisco is probably lagging behind the startups that have so far defined this market. "The endgame is terribly similar, but the path that Cisco's taking seems to be a longer route," he says.
But does Cisco's entry into this market mean that it's game-over for Airespace Inc., Aruba Networks Inc., Trapeze Networks Inc., and all the rest? (See WLAN Switch Shakeout Looms?.)
Not necessarily, says Germanow, but it does mean they'll have to keep spending those precious VC dollars on R&D to stay ahead of the game (see Switch Startups Seek Funding).
"It doesn't finish off everybody," opines Germanow. "There's still a lot of value in products that help large multisite enterprise implementations.
"You have to remember that these startups sell feature sets. What Cisco sells its customers is a platform, a platform that all of this functionality will turn up on… eventually." — Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
The latest Unstrung Insider report covers this emerging market. Wireless LAN Switches: The Market Makers costs $400. An annual subscription to the Insider is ordinarily $1,250 but is currently available at the special introductory price of $899. For more information, including subscription information and research examples, go to Unstrung Insider.