Optical/IP Networks

Nortel Preps 'Security Switch'

Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) will make its entry into the enterprise 802.11 market on Monday with a product the company is calling a "wireless LAN security switch."

The product will manage a network of 802.11 access points, handling user authentication and other security functions, according to IDC analyst Abner Germanow.

Nortel is using technology it acquired from content switching startup Alteon WebSystems, which it bought in 2000 for $7.8 billion (see Nortel Buys Alteon for Big Bucks and Nortel Buys: Reaping the Whirlwind?). Nortel has recently been repositioning the Alteon products for other applications, and it has launched a series of security switches based on the technology (see Nortel Closes Content Switch Deals and Nortel Consolidates Security).

"They're using Layer 4 through Layer 7 switch functionality to make this happen," Germanow says. "I know that the guys that are the product managers for this were at Alteon."

Nortel isn't the only company using Alteon talent to produce 802.11 switches. Startup Aruba Networks Inc. is also staffed with many ex-Alteonites (see S.Lo No Go as Aruba CEO).

Chris Kozup, senior research analyst for global networking strategies at Meta Group Inc., doesn't consider the product a true switch. "It's an appliance-type platform that sits behind a Layer 2 switch," he says. (See Vivato's Switch Bitch and Switch Tiff Heats Up for more on the vexed question of what exactly constitutes a WLAN switch.)

IDC's Germanow says the box will compete with wireless LAN switch products like those being introduced by Aruba, Airespace Inc., and Trapeze Networks Inc.; and with WLAN security boxes from such companies as Bluesocket Inc., ReefEdge Inc., and Vernier Networks Inc.

"The big advantage Nortel has over the startups is the strength of their distribution channel," Germanow notes.

The product is expected to ship in June. Nortel will release more details about the product on Monday.

Germanow expects that other major players such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which is already the number one provider of enterprise access points, will follow Nortel's lead and introduce more sophisticated wireless LAN management products during the course of this year (see Cisco’s LAN Switch: Build or Buy? and WLAN Switch Shakeout Looms?).

"In 2003, we're going to see a lot of new enterprise-class wireless LAN products, as well as carrier-class products," Germanow says.

Nortel is already working on carrier-oriented technology that is aimed at melding WLAN with cellular networks (see Nortel Romances Roaming ).

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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