Cisco Steps Up Plans for Airespace Products

Cisco looks to gain better management capabilities via its acquisition of Airespace.

Although the acquisition wont be official until April, Cisco Systems Inc. is already at work on plans for the assets of Airespace Inc.

The product road map adds better management capabilities to Ciscos product line by integrating Airespace management software, but it leaves the future of some Airespace hardware uncertain, according to sources familiar with the plans.

Cisco officials have said publicly that, at first, the company will sell two separate product lines. The Cisco SWAN (Structured Wireless-Aware Network) product line will comprise the WLSE (Wireless LAN Solution Engine) appliance, the WLSM (Wireless LAN Services Module) for Ciscos Catalyst 6500 switch and its feature-rich Aironet access points.

There will also be a Cisco-Airespace-branded version of Airespaces ACS (Airespace Control System) management software, its line of WLAN (wireless LAN) switches and its series of "thin" access points. Cisco announced its intention to buy Airespace in January.

Officials at the two companies, both based in San Jose, Calif., declined to comment on unannounced plans, but according to sources, Cisco will add support for LWAPP (Lightweight Access Point Protocol) to its Aironet access points three to six months after the merger closes.

Authored initially by Airespace and NTT DoCoMo Inc. but never adopted as an industry standard, LWAPP is meant to allow communication between access points and WLAN switches, routers and appliances. D-Link Systems Inc. last year announced plans to develop a D-Link-branded LWAPP access point that would run with Airespace switches, but those plans have been benched in light of the Cisco acquisition, said D-Link officials in Fountain Valley, Calif.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about Ciscos acquisition of Airespace.

Adding LWAPP will allow Aironet access points to work with Airespace switches, but competitors question the credence of LWAPP.

"Its critically important to question the integrity of proprietary protocols that have not received adequate peer security review," said Keerti Melkote, vice president of product management at Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., a fellow WLAN switch vendor that rivals Airespace. Aruba uses GRE (generic route encapsulation) tunneling for access-point-to-switch communications. "LWAPP remains a proprietary protocol that has not been accepted by the standards community," Melkote said.

Cisco customers will have the option of choosing between multipoint GRE and LWAPP, depending on whether their access points are communicating with an Airespace-based switch or a Cisco Catalyst switch with WLSM, according to sources.

Cisco also has established a strategy for Airespaces ACS configuration and management software, which bests Ciscos management tools, according to industry experts. Upon announcing the acquisition, Cisco officials were clear that ACS was a key selling point.

Within six months of the merger, the company will add support for ACS to the aforementioned WLSE appliance. Within a year, ACS will be integrated into other hardware, including a new blade for the Catalyst 6500. Cisco customers are optimistic.

"Better management tools would be great," said John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Health System, a Boston-area hospital group that uses Cisco gear. Halamka said his main problems with Cisco management software are that it has "no graphical user interface, and ... you can put in rules that make no logical sense."

The future of Airespaces existing hardware line is less clear. Some competitors have heard reports that Cisco will discontinue Airespaces 4012 and 4024 switches, for example. On the other hand, some Airespace customers have been reassured about product support.

"I have had conversations with Airespace about how the merger will affect what I am doing today and what my plans are in the future," said Kent Hargrave, CIO at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, in Bellevue, Wash., which uses Airespaces 4102 appliances and thin access points, as well as Cisco LAN equipment. "The products I currently run will continue to be supported in the foreseeable future. So far, it has all been very positive."

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