Aruba Moves Portend Enterprise Wireless Consolidation

News Analysis: Aruba's acquisition of Network Chemistry's wireless overlay technology could reverberate throughout the WLAN industry if other vendors follow suit.

While Aruba Networks purchase of Network Chemistrys wireless intrusion prevention intellectual property in late July does not necessarily herald a surge of acquisitions among enterprise wireless LAN vendors, the wireless market is well-positioned for the largest infrastructure vendors to make their own plays if Arubas move quickly shows benefits.

However, Arubas acquisition should cause significant consternation among smaller wireless infrastructure vendors that rely on Network Chemistrys technology for wireless security, logging and analysis, as this move—and the possibility of similar moves down the road—could easily accelerate consolidation in the enterprise wireless market.

For the last two years, vendors providing wireless infrastructure equipment such as controllers, access points and management software have been aligning themselves with wireless overlay vendors to shore up shortcomings in their native analysis and security offerings.

For instance, in 2006 I reviewed Trapeze Networks initial integration with AirDefense, but AirDefense also has a partnership in place with Motorola via its 2006 acquisition of Symbol Technologies. Meanwhile, Version 5.5 of wireless intrusion prevention vendor AirTight Networks SpectraGuard Enterprise, due in October, will forge a connection with Cisco Systems Wireless LAN Controllers.

These partnerships have helped allay some of the concerns about the detection and intrusion prevention capabilities provided natively by infrastructure vendors by integrating advanced third-party technology while easing access point and sensor management and keeping RF (radio frequency) information out of the data plane. Data can coalesce on the back end and be presented to the wireless management console to provide a more complete—and integrated—view of performance, security and access policies.

In a statement, AirTight Networks Public Relations Director Della Lowe indicated that Arubas acquisition provides validation for the entire wireless overlay industry. "Aruba and other WLAN and network infrastructure players have been downgrading the need for WIPS overlay for some time and putting forth their solutions as sufficient for overall wireless security and protection of the wired network. This acquisition demonstrates that Aruba knew that some piece of the security puzzle was missing," Lowe said, in Mountain View, Calif.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about a wireless deal between Aruba and AirWave Wireless.

Aruba placed emphasis on total wireless security years earlier than other infrastructure companies did, so it was no surprise that Aruba was the first WLAN infrastructure vendor to make the leap to purchase an overlay companys technology. And since Network Chemistry was looking to leave the WIPS business to concentrate on its upcoming Project Wishbone, the purchase price—although undisclosed—was probably quite affordable.

Just prior to the Network Chemistry acquisition, Aruba also announced a partnership with wireless overlay vendor AirMagnet. However, Aruba licensed only AirMagnets best-in-class wireless and radio frequency analysis capabilities, while forgoing AirMagnets WIP features, so Aruba representatives said they dont see any overlap there.

"The future of security, especially with wireless, is with integrated solutions," said Michael Tennefoss, vice president of marketing for Aruba Networks, based in Sunnyvale, Calif. "There is so much information that you can gather from the wireless LAN that you cannot get as a stand-alone overlay. We had the capability before, but now [with the Network Chemistry acquisition and AirMagnet partnership] it is greatly enhanced."

If Arubas move pays early dividends, other wireless infrastructure companies will have to pay heed. While most wireless infrastructure vendors are probably not financially able to buy an overlay company, there are a few big fish in the pond that could snap up the few remaining standout overlay companies.

For instance, Siemens Venture Capital owns a stake in AirTight Networks, a company known specifically for its intrusion prevention capabilities. Siemens Venture is a subsidiary of Siemens, which is heavily promoting its own wireless equipment with an eye to the future of VOIP (voice over IP) integration and fixed mobile convergence.

While I would argue that AirMagnet would be a better fit for Siemens given AirMagnets new proficiency at voice-over-Wi-Fi analysis, Siemens has harvested crops from this field before, as its current HiPath wireless portfolio has its roots in technology acquired from Chantry Networks—which was funded in part by Siemens Venture.

Meanwhile, Cisco has a wide breadth of experience with WIPS vendors, as it used to partner with AirDefense for its legacy Aironet architecture, and will soon support AirTight for its Wireless LAN Controllers.

Given the proliferations of partnerships between infrastructure and overlay companies, acquisitions will have some very negative effects for the smaller wireless infrastructure companies. For instance, Arubas acquisition of Network Chemistry has a direct effect on both Bluesocket and 2006 eWEEK Excellence Award Winner Xirrus, as both companies have relied on Network Chemistrys technology for over-the-air intrusion prevention capabilities.

Both of these companies are faced with tough decisions, as they must choose between continuing a partnership with a direct competitor or starting from scratch—either by developing the technology in-house or forging an alliance with another overlay vendor. And starting from scratch means being several years behind the current industry standard.

For its part, Aruba Networks stated that it will continue to serve Network Chemistrys existing customers, presumably meaning direct customers and integration partners alike. Likewise, Aruba will continue to offer Network Chemistrys technology as a stand-alone product while it continues to work toward baking the features into Arubas regular product line.

"Those companies that choose to come along for the ride, we will continue to support," Tennefoss said. "Those that dont for whatever reason, thats their choice. But it wont be for lack of support from us."

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