Last year, the wireless LAN industry was inundated with startups hoping to make their mark with centralized wireless LAN management platforms. Today, major incumbent WLAN players such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Symbol Technologies Inc. consider just two of those startups as formidable competition: Aruba Wireless Networks Inc. and Airespace Inc., both of which reported major rounds of funding last week. eWEEK Senior Editor Carmen Nobel talked to Brett Galloway, CEO of Airespace, based in San Jose, Calif., last week to get his take on the shakeout as well as what the future may hold for the WLAN elite.
First things first. There are rumors that Airespace is looking for a new CEO. Any truth to those, or are you in this for the long haul?
No truth to the rumors. In fact, the business is doing really well. We just finished a blowout Q2.
Who is your biggest competitor?
We see all the startups sometimes, but, for the most part, we see the incumbents. Its a large market, and there are a lot of opportunities to engage. Of the startups, we see Aruba more often than the others.
Microsoft Corp. [of Redmond, Wash.] is supposed to be readying a request for proposal to upgrade its massive corporate WLAN. Beyond that, the company has been involved in the development of WLAN standards. Whats your interest in Microsoft, as a customer and as a partner?
Were a member of the Microsoft Partner Solutions Center. A lot of the capabilities of Airespace were built on Microsofts existing requirements. Microsoft has one of the largest WLANs. Were really excited at the prospect of continuing to work with them on their requirements.
IBM [in Armonk, N.Y.] and Hewlett-Packard Co. [in Palo Alto, Calif.] have been integrating wireless into their services strategies and not just with their hardware. Both seem to be looking to startups. Any plans for partnerships with either, and can you describe those plans? Sources tell me that you have a comprehensive location-based technology deal with IBM.
I cant comment on [unannounced deals,] but integration partnerships are a major part of our strategy. You can certainly expect to see announcements from Airespace on the topic in the near future. Our strategy is very much to enable a broad range of new wireless services to be deployed. We have a voice-services partnership with NEC [Corp.]. More recently, we have a heavy focus on location. Being able to locate devices is a core part of our product, not an add-on. Well have some major location announcements.
What are your plans for other wireless technologies, such as WiMax?
The mission of Airespace is to be the premier wireless access systems company, not just a premier Wi-Fi company. Were a member of the WiMax Forum and are very interested to determine where the technology fits best in the market. Theres a clear application for WiMax as a backhaul technology. Youll see us introduce products that take advantage of WiMax backhaul to extend our current architecture and to leverage our central management capabilities and security mobility capabilities. Our customers generally dont look for technology. They look for solutions. Our management architecture has been well- received, but our customers look for solutions in places where you cant run an Ethernet cable.
Airespace and Aruba differ in that you dont centralize your encryption in the switch, and Aruba does. “Remote MAC [media access control]” versus “split MAC” has been an area of contention between the two companies in developing the CAPWAP [Control and Provisioning of Wireless Access Points] protocol with the IETF [Internet Engineering Task Force]. Why did you choose the latter, and how is the CAPWAP standard process going?
We chose split MAC to optimize the centralized management of the system [and to provide us with] the ability to have a high-performance access point. We still think its a superior architecture, and our OEMs validate that as well. We do centralize encryption. What we dont centralize is 802.11 link encryption.
Sources say that Airespace and Aruba have closed major deals with large customers, mainly financial houses, that traditionally have gone with Cisco Systems [of San Jose] or Symbol Technologies [of Holtsville, N.Y.]. for their networking needs. How does a small company serve a large customer without getting bullied?
Generally, weve not found that to be a systemic problem. In some cases, large customers will ask for some pretty technically demanding applications … but, in general, weve had good working relationships with our large customers and have not experienced the phenomenon youve described.