Ciscos WLAN Plan Puzzles Users

Three months after acquiring rival Airespace, Cisco is starting to clarify its enterprise wireless LAN strategy. However, it's confusing customers with mixed messages.

Three months after acquiring rival Airespace Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. is starting to clarify its enterprise wireless LAN strategy.

However, the company is confusing some customers with mixed messages of integration and separate choices. The companys tendency toward road map caginess isnt helping, either.

At the companys annual Networkers conference here in late June, company executives presented Ciscos WLAN strategy as if it were the Frosted Mini-Wheats of the industry—dual-sided with something for everyone.

The vendor showcased its Distributed WLAN Solution exhibit, which comprises its incumbent, feature-rich Aironet access points and related management products, next to its Centralized WLAN Solution, based on Airespaces technology, which involves provisioning and managing thin access points from a central controller.

But at the same time, the company is talking integration. Cisco is set to launch the second new product to result from its Airespace acquisition; the Wireless Controller 4400 is a centrally managed box that supports up to 100 thin access points, said officials at the San Jose, Calif., company. The controller is available now, but Cisco has yet to announce it.

The controller is designed to work with Airespaces thin access points. By the end of summer, Cisco will add support for LWAPP (Lightweight Access Point Protocol) to its Aironet 1130 AG and 1230 AG series of access points in the form of a software upgrade, which will let them work with the centralized controllers.

Initially, though, the upgrade will be available only for access points that support the 802.11g and 802.11a standards, officials said. Support for the more prevalent 802.11b access points will come later, according to sources close to the company.

Cisco this year still plans to upgrade some pieces of its Distributed WLAN product line. Two updates to the companys Wireless LAN Services Module, which sits in a Catalyst 6500 switch, are due by years end, sources said.

Ciscos tendency to keep its road map close to the vest is making some customers nervous.

"Our reseller called me today [and] shared some tidbits that Cisco threw his way, among them, that most of the features will be migrated into Cisco products. He didnt know what most meant. They didnt tell him," said Boris Shubin, a network administrator at Dunkin Donuts Inc.s Mid-Atlantic Distribution Center, in Westampton, N.J., who bought equipment from Airespace before its acquisition by Cisco.

Cisco acknowledged the uncertainty.

"Its difficult for the messaging not to be confused in the marketplace," said Charles Giancarlo, Ciscos chief technology officer and president of Cisco-Linksys LLC. "I think the main message is that theres not only one strategy. The midmarket was a gap, and the Airespace acquisition was the best way to fill that gap."

Separately, Cisco is working to assure customers that it has a good enough relationship with Microsoft Corp. that the companies products will work together harmoniously. Of great concern are Microsofts and Ciscos competing client integrity architectures, both of which are designed to support wired and wireless environments.

"Well always find a way to dance together," Cisco CEO John Chambers said.


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