Two vendors vying for the right to help replace Microsoft Corp.s corporate WLAN are using the process to showcase upcoming products they said will benefit enterprises that must provide Wi-Fi access to remote workers in large campus environments.
According to sources, Microsoft was close to choosing Airespace Inc. late last year but changed direction after Cisco Systems Inc. announced plans to acquire Airespace in January. Now Microsoft is close to finalizing a deal with Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., sources said.
Although Cisco was the incumbent wireless LAN provider, Microsoft officials dont want a Cisco-based system largely for competitive reasons, the sources said. For instance, Microsoft and Cisco offer competitive network access tools—Ciscos NAC (Network Admission Control) versus Microsofts NAP (Network Access Protection).
Microsoft officials declined to comment on their plans for the WLAN, saying the decision was not yet final.
The company issued an RFP (request for proposal) last year to replace its WLAN. Set up in 1999, the network includes about 4,500 access points from Aironet Wireless Communications Inc.—which was subsequently acquired by Cisco—and Aruba products that detect rogue access points.
According to sources familiar with the Microsoft RFP, the finalists were Nortel Networks Ltd., which was reselling equipment from Airespace; Aruba, which also makes WLAN switches; and Cisco, the incumbent vendor for the Microsoft campus WLAN in Redmond, Wash.
At the Interop show in Las Vegas this week, Aruba will display some of the equipment that could make its way into Microsofts network. The company will introduce a preprovisioned personal access point, aimed at business travelers, that plugs into a hotel room Ethernet port, forms an IP Security tunnel and routes data traffic from the users device to the corporate WLAN switch.
"We use the IPSec tunnel feature for remote users who want network access," said Brandon Bryant, network administrator for Legal Services for New York City, in New York. "I can rest easier knowing that they are not using an insecure wireless solution and accessing the network here. I can control the AP centrally, making sure that insecure access is not allowed."
This summer, Aruba will introduce a network management switch designed to support networks of multiple WLAN switches. While Aruba has offered network management capabilities in the past on its other switches, this will be a separate box with its own hard drive. An Aruba official said the box was designed for networks "along the lines of Microsofts network," adding that working for Microsoft in the past has indirectly benefited other customers.
Also at Interop, Cisco will demonstrate its first product that integrates software from the Airespace acquisition: an appliance that tracks the location of wireless clients as they roam the network.
Cisco officials said that a key part of the Airespace acquisition was its relatively simple-to-use management software, and they plan to try to make their security software easier to use, too.
"The emphasis for us is to make sure that NAC interoperability works on the wireless client as much as on the wired side," said Dave Leonard, a vice president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit at Cisco, in San Jose, Calif.
More generally, the company is looking to help customers integrate their wired and wireless security setups.
"Wireless security has been a separate thing, but it really shouldnt be," said Brett Galloway, a vice president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit.
Meanwhile, Aruba has announced support for Microsofts NAP, but Aruba officials declined to comment on whether they have won the Microsoft WLAN account.
"Either way, were going to work with Microsoft," Ciscos Leonard said. "Theyre key to making a client work."
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