Cisco Unifies Wired, Wireless Networks With Switch, WLAN Controller

Cisco unveils key additions to its Unified Access initiative, including a new Catalyst switch and WLAN controller that is based on a new ASIC.

Cisco Systems is converging wired and wireless networks under its Unified Access umbrella, and is offering open interfaces that will enable businesses to hook into burgeoning software-defined networks.

At the networking giant's Cisco Live show Jan. 29, Cisco executives unveiled two new products—the Catalyst 3850 Unified Access switch and 5760 Unified Access WLAN controller—both of which are based on Cisco's new Unified Access Data Plane (UADP) application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). The ASIC essentially takes what traditionally has been wireless network overlays built atop wired networks, and converges the wired and wireless traffic onto a single data plane

In a technology world driven by such trends as cloud computing, mobility and bring your own device (BYOD), a converged network enables better network performance, cost efficiency, less complexity and simpler management, according to Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director of enterprise networking marketing at Cisco.

"We've brought all the access technologies together," Lasser-Raab told eWEEK.

Cisco officials have been talking about their Unified Access initiative to unite wired, wireless and virtual private networks over the last few months, adding to it incrementally. For example, in October 2012, the company added features designed to make it easier for employees to get their personal mobile devices—such as tablets and smartphones—onto the corporate network in a secure fashion. In addition, Cisco's $1.2 billion acquisition a month later of Meraki, which offers cloud-based WiFi switching, security and mobile-device management, also plays into the Unified Access effort, according to Cisco officials.

Having a converged network that can handle both wired and wireless traffic is crucial as the number of connected mobile devices in use grows (2.5 devices per user in the United States), the amount of mobile data traffic will skyrocket (growing six times by 2015) and video becomes a larger part of that traffic (67 percent by 2015).

"This is a transformation that enterprises have to deal with," Lasser-Raab said.

Cisco is looking to address various challenges in the current networking space, she said. A survey found that 39 percent of IT staffs questioned and 46 percent of individual users said they experience wireless performance issues from bottlenecks in the networks, and there also were large numbers of both individual users and corporate IT staffs that said there were inconsistent management policies in their environments brought on by complex procedures for bringing their mobile devices onto the network.

Lasser-Raab said Cisco has spent more than $100 million in research and development of the UADP ASIC, which she called "the fastest wired-wireless ASIC out there." It's easily programmable—"It can support moving targets," she said—supports SDN interfaces in Cisco's OnePK software-defined network (SDN) efforts, and offers high performance for both wired and wireless traffic.

The Catalyst 3850 Unified Access switch includes built-in WLAN controller capabilities, while the 5760 Unified Access WLAN controller appliance offers software based on Cisco's IOS operating system and 60G bps of performance.

The Catalyst 3850 offers a single physical infrastructure for both wired and wireless networks, and includes network-wide visibility and analytics for fast troubleshooting, as well as common network intelligence—thanks to the UDAP and IOS—and quality of service across the wired-wireless network.

In addition, Cisco announced Identity Services Engine (ISE) 1.2, which adds mobile-device-management integration with MDM solutions from such vendors as Airwatch, Good, Mobile Iron Zenprise and SAP, Lasser-Raab said. The aim is to deliver a single and simple policy-management solution.

On the management side, Cisco announced Prime Infrastructure 2.0, which gives users a complete view across applications, services and end users, and offers new automated workflows for more simplified network operations. In addition, through Prime Infrastructure 2.0, IT staffs can integrate the Catalyst 3850 switch, 5760 WLAN controller and other components of the Unified Access portfolio.

Both the ISE 1.2 release and Prime Infrastructure 2.0 will be available in March.