Optical/IP Networks

The Eagle Has Landed?

Cluck cluck!

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is putting some more feathers on the bones of its SWAN centralized wireless LAN security and management project today and may unveil its first wireless LAN switch -- codenamed "Screaming Eagle" -- according to a document seen by Unstrung.

The document, a PowerPoint file, appears to be an internal Cisco presentation that lays out several stages of the firm's enterprise wireless LAN roadmap. A spokeswoman from Cisco had no comment on whether the document was genuine and could give no more detail about the company's WLAN plans.

The SWAN -- or "structured wireless-aware networked infrastructure enhancements" for the long-winded amongst you -- project involves the building of wireless LAN control functions into the vendor's existing wired switches and routers (see Cisco's Path to Switchdom).

According to the document, this will initially involve integrating some of the functionality from the company's Wireless LAN Solution Engine (WLSE) software onto a Catalyst 6500 series blade, known as the Wireless LAN Mobility Module (WLMM). Although a separate source tells us that users will still need to run a new version of the WLSE software (v. 2.7) with the WLMM.

Eventually Cisco plans to bring such security and management functions to other switches and routers as well.

This box will be able to control up to 300 access points (APs) via the General Routing Encapsulated (GRE) tunneling protocol, according to the document, although traffic termination will have to be carried out in combination with the Supervisor 720 module.

Cisco has already started to play catchup with startups in this market by adding features to its clients and access points like rogue AP detection and fast, secure roaming between access points to its WLSE software (see Cisco's SWAN Song).

According to sources familiar with Cisco's plans, many of the security functions -- such as encryption -- will continue to be handled at the access points.

Part of the reason for this is because the WLMM is designed to be used with existing Cisco "fat" access ports -- the 1100 and 1200 models -- although it apparently will not support the older 340 and 350 APs, according to sources.

In general, this would fit with what Cisco has already revealed about its wireless networking strategy. The firm has a preference for maintaining more "intelligence" at the edge of the network (i.e., the AP) rather than having an entirely centralized architecture where all -- or nearly all -- the "smarts" reside in the switch that controls a farm of small, "dumb" access points.

Nonetheless, the Screaming Eagle could take the networking big gun directly into competition with wireless LAN switch startups like Airespace Inc., Aruba Wireless Networks, and Trapeze Networks Inc.

— Swan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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