Wi-Fi switch maker Trapeze has launched a stand-alone system to allow businesses to manage up to 10,000 visitors on their wireless network -- just in time to handle a surge in portable Wi-Fi devices
"The idea of a guest provisioning tool is not new," said Michael Coci, director of technical marketing at Trapeze. "SmartPass is more scalable because it's a stand-alone server rather than sitting on a switch." By comparison, solutions from other vendors including Aruba and Cisco often require individual switches to be updated with user databases, and have been limited to small numbers of users.
Managing guest access has become even more important with the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices including dual-mode phones such as the Apple iPhone (wrongly blamed for crashing Duke University's network in July) and other devices such as the Wi-Fi iPod (announced this week). Three million mobile Internet devices will ship in 2008, growing to 90 million units in 2012, according Stan Schatt, vice president of Network Research at ABI Research: "Not all of these devices will necessarily support IEEE 802.11i security standards, and they won't necessarily all support endpoint secure clients. That means it will be critical that these devices have limited access to corporate networking resources."
The SmartPass software (make sure not to miss out the "P"!) costs US$595 for a version which supports 40 clients, and US$1,395 for a version that supports up to 10,000. It runs on Windows and has been developed from a previous release, GuestPass, which was a free download. "We continued to receive product enhancement requests, for example, full RADIUS capabilities, and bulk-user creation, so the idea was to add everything the customer base was asking for, and charge a nominal price for it. GuestPass costs less than the price of an access point."
The GuestPass system can be accessed on a web page, by administrative staff including receptionists, said Coci, offloading the task from network administrators.
For this particular part of the Wi-Fi puzzle, Trapeze probably has a bigger competitor in Colubris, a vendor which initially sold to Wi-Fi hotspot providers with an enterprise product, and added a Visitor Management Tool derived from its hotspot experience late in 2006.
While Colubris' enterprise switches are newer and less proven than Trapeze's, its visitor management product has features very similar to Trapeze's SmartPass. "Our solution is also built on a centralized database and provides very high levels of scalability, security and reliability," said Carl Blume, director of product marketing at Colubris. "It has a track record of interoperability - we've serviced 30 million users."
Colubris's product can support up to a thousand different receptionists in a distributed enterprise, said Blume.