Cisco Catalyst Goes Wireless

Cisco will add significant wireless capabilities to its most popular Ethernet switch.

Cisco Systems Inc. is preparing to add significant wireless capabilities to its most popular Ethernet switch that will, among other things, enable mobile users to roam among access points without losing their connection.

The set of products, code-named Screaming Eagle and due this week, will bring Layer 3 mobility to the Catalyst 6500 Series, according to sources familiar with the plans.

At the core of the products is a new wireless module for the Catalyst 6500, which provides wireless domain services. The solution also requires Ciscos Supervisor 720 module, which includes new Layer 3 mobility management software, sources said.

Cisco officials declined to comment on Screaming Eagle, but sources said the system will be on display at the Networld+Interop show in Las Vegas next week.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to get the scoop on other WLAN products that are expected to be launched at N+I, including the first to support Ciscos new EAP-FAST protocol.

The software processes tunnel events and configuration changes, as well as DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) snooping. It also maintains a separate database containing IP and media access control addresses, wireless network IDs, and access point IP addresses. In addition to mobile computing users, the technology is especially critical for enterprise use of wireless IP phones.

Screaming Eagle operates in conjunction with Ciscos WLSE (Wireless LAN Solutions Engine)—a management appliance that was among the first pieces introduced as part of Ciscos SWAN (Structured Wireless Aware Network) architecture last year.

The SWAN concept is designed to enable current Cisco customers to integrate wireless services into a Cisco-branded wired network. Some customers said the strategy makes network management easier.

"Keeping things simple with fewer vendors has been successful for us," said John Halamka, CIO of CareGroup Healthcare System, a Boston-area hospital group. "As long as the functions and services they introduce do not add undesirable workload ... we should be OK. As with other Cisco customers, well be eager to pilot the new product when it is released."

"In the long run, if we embed wireless into LAN switches, I think it will lower the cost overall," said Todd Dierksheide, senior network engineer at Sovereign Bank, in Reading, Pa., which already runs 35 Catalyst 6500 switches, the latest version of WLSE and more than 1,000 Cisco IP phones. "As wireless becomes more and more vital to Sovereign, its more cost-effective if you have it on a single platform," he said.

The Screaming Eagle system works by setting up a multipoint GRE (general routing encapsulation) tunnel from the Catalyst 6500 to each access point on the network. Screaming Eagle supports up to 300 access points, up to 16 tunnels per access point and about 6,000 users, according to sources.

The tunnel overlays the existing campus network, and the wireless network ID is specified in the tunnel configuration.

With the GRE tunneling, a packet coming from a wireless client will go through several stages—through the access point, then to multiple switches before going to the destination—even if the destination is a client on the same access point as the sender. This roundabout path is known as "tromboning," which critics say is inefficient.

Furthermore, Screaming Eagle does not solve the problem of roaming from one Catalyst 6500 to another, which limits the customer in terms of supported users and location, according to the sources.

The WLAN services module is expected to cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. The Supervisor 720 currently sells for $28,000.

Cisco is not alone in its WLAN moves. Also at N+I, Cisco competitor Chantry Networks Inc. plans to introduce Version 2.0 of its BeaconWorks WLAN switching software, which also supports a Layer 3 architecture.

BeaconWorks 2.0 includes support for voice over Wi-Fi, specifically SpectraLink Corp.s SVP (SpectraLink Voice Priority) protocol. However, BeaconWorks goes SpectraLink one better by enabling Layer 3 roaming of voice-over-Wi-Fi handsets among subnets, said officials at Chantry, in Waltham, Mass. These features are available now.

In addition, at the end of this month, Chantry will introduce the ability to bridge traffic locally between access points, while maintaining central authentication, eliminating the tromboning, officials said.

The software will be available as a free upgrade to current Chantry customers.

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