Cisco's SWAN Song
As expected, the networking giant unveiled 802.11g (54 Mbit/s per 2.4Ghz) radio modules for its 1100 and 1200 series access points that support more advanced encryption, as well as new g client cards and an update to its wireless LAN solution engine (WLSE) software (see Cisco to Announce 802.11 Updates for details).
So far, so dull.
However, Cisco big goudas like Larry Birenbaum, senior VP and general manager of the Ethernet access group, made much of how Cisco is "uniquely positioned to deliver… integration" between wired and wireless networks so that IT managers can control both as a single entity. This, Birenbaum points out, is what separates Cisco from the wireless LAN appliance and switch startups that have so far made the running in the managed 802.11 networking.
Cisco's roadmap for integrating its wired and wireless kit is called "structured wireless-aware networked infrastructure enhancements" (or SWAN), and it was first unveiled in June (see Cisco's Path to Switchdom). The eventual aim is to implement wireless security and management features on Cisco's wired switches and routers via IOS software upgrades rather than building a whole new wireless overlay, as the WLAN startups must do.
However, when Bill Rossi, VP of Cisco’s wireless networking business unit, was questioned about the schedule for the upgrades, he was as cagey as a factory-farm chicken. Apparently "some features" for the wired switches will be released from the middle of 2004 and on into 2005, but he didn't detail which ones.
So, how are customers supposed to incorporate more security and management features on their WLAN networks? "They'll start with an overlay… using WLSE," says Rossi. "Over time, it'll become more and more integrated into their network." However, he gave no indication as to when that process will be completed.
Analysts think Rossi and his crew can't really put a date on when exactly the updates will arrive because they have to wait for IOS and wired switch teams to complete their work, and wireless is just one of a number of projects that those teams will be working on.
"Part of the reason why he's very vague on the dates is that he might not even know," says IDC analyst Abner Germanow.
It's somewhat out of their control," concurs Meta Group Inc.'s Chris Kozup. "IOS is their own beast."
What this does mean, Kozup notes, is that the wireless LAN startups will likely have another year -- maybe more -- to try and make waves in the market before Cisco really arrives. "It's still wait-and-see with SWAN," he concludes.
— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung