Wireless switches target Wi-Fi hurdles

Wireless switches target Wi-Fi hurdles

Wireless switches are making inroads into the enterprise with a set of management and deployment features designed to make Wi-Fi technologies a must-buy.

Vivato Networks, Symbol Technologies, Trapeze Networks and Aruba Wireless Networks are among the companies developing switches designed to overcome many of the hurdles preventing Wi-Fi from dominating the enterprise.

“The enterprise market is stagnating a bit,” network research analyst at Gartner, Dana Tardelli, said. “The major areas [preventing widespread adoption] are still security and management. The networking fundamentals haven’t expanded to Wi-Fi, yet.”

Late last month Vivato, a San Francisco-based startup, unveiled a wireless switch that transmits three simultaneous beams up to 300 metres, but more importantly, the switch features advanced security functions and can be managed centrally, similar to how Ethernet-based equipment is managed.

Vice-president of marketing at Vivato, Phil Belanger, said the architecture of a wireless switch was more analogous to the networking world IT managers know and trust.

“With our wireless switch we’re repackaging Wi-Fi to make it more enterprise friendly,” Belanger said.

He agreed that security was still the utmost concern of all IT managers.

“Deploying multiple access points is expensive and time-consuming; a Wi-Fi switch eliminates these issues,” Belanger said.

Vivato’s switch also allows network administrators to detect rogue APs (access points) — access points that employees purchase and bring into work and plug directly in to their company’s network.

Installing rogue APs provides employees with their own wireless access, yet also gives IT departments fits as many of these rogue access points don’t adhere to an enterprise’s strict security policy. This makes the entire network vulnerable to attacks.

Wireless stalwart Symbol Technologies has already introduced a Wi-Fi switch and officials at start-ups Trapeze Networks and Aruba Wireless Networks say they are developing wireless switches that address some limitations of today’s architected Wi-Fi equipment.

“Today Wi-Fi is expensive and complex to deploy,” communications director at Aruba, David Callisch, said. “If something changes everything has to be touched.”

Callisch said security in Wi-Fi networks typically resided in access points and that accessing each device when security policies changed could be difficult and time-consuming.

“Most access points in use today were never designed for the enterprise, but [rather] the home or small offices,” Callisch said.

Arubais was currently in beta with its switch and anticipated shipping in late April.

However, today’s Wi-Fi limitations were not the only thing affecting enterprise adoption. A report published by Synergy Research claimed that the enterprise market grew only one per cent in the fourth quarter 2002 in comparison to the third quarter.

This stagnation was partially due to a perception that wireless LANs in the enterprise were “nice to have”, Synergy analyst, Aaron Vance, said in his report.

However, Vance and companies such as Symbol saw Wi-Fi taking off in vertical industries such as health care, education, retail, and shipping and logistics.

“Right now, Wi-Fi is an easily deferrable cost. It is not critical in most offices,” general manager of the network systems group at Symbol, Ray Martinoe, said. “[However] the technology will reach the mature phase soon and then we’ll see companies willing to invest and make those tough decisions.”

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