As issues such as security and roaming start to be solved, wireless LANs are moving toward greater integration with enterprise networks. Wireless is now set to work its way into Cisco Systems Inc.'s LAN flagship, the Catalyst 6500 switch.
Cisco on Wednesday unveiled a wireless LAN hardware module for the 6500 platform, along with an updated wireless management application and an access point (AP) suited to outdoor as well as indoor use. The introductions are the latest steps in the rollout of the Cisco Structured Wireless-Aware Network (SWAN), the networking giant's wireless LAN vision that was kicked off about a year ago. Wi-Fi is now moving toward large-enterprise scale and mobile applications such as campus voice calling, according to the San Jose, California company.
The Wireless LAN Services Module (WLSM) for Cisco's Catalyst 6500 switch can support as many as 300 APs and 6,000 users, Cisco executives said during a webcast Wednesday. It is designed as the central element of wireless LANs for an entire enterprise, with wireless users able to connect securely through tunnels across a LAN or WAN. Also unveiled Wednesday was CiscoWorks Wireless LAN Solution Engine (WLSE) Version 2.7, an update to a centralized management application that can find failed APs and adjust others to restore coverage. Among other enhancements, it also automates the process of adjusting AP power and channels to optimize coverage.
The new WLSE software impressed a network manager at Media General Inc., in Richmond, Virginia, with its rogue access point detection and network layout automation features. The large broadcast, print and online media company is still at the trial stage with wireless LANs, but network manager Daniel Foss thinks the technology may pay off by letting employees access network information and applications while away from their desks. For example, newspaper editors could access current page layouts while in meetings, he said. WLSE's new features could save legwork for the IT department, Foss said.
Cisco's latest enhancements, including fast handoffs between APs, could help large enterprises with wireless LANs move from portability in the office to true mobility, according to IDC analyst Abner Germanow. The company's prize customers already have campus deployments large enough to benefit from the new scalability, he added. What Cisco has done is in some cases bigger than what specialized vendors are doing and in other cases different, Germanow said.
Cisco Product Line Manager Douglas Gourlay dismissed third-party wireless switch products on the market now as "appliances" that aren't suited to scaling up beyond what would be simply "pilot deployments" at many large or medium-sized enterprises. The WLSM, based on ASICs (application specific integrated circuits) and integrated into Cisco's high-powered 6500, provides the headroom to keep adding access points and users toward true enterprise scale without degrading performance, he said.
A key benefit to the end user is the ability to roam among access points while keeping any active applications or VOIP calls live, because once the users are authenticated they keep their IP addresses and the policies that apply to them, Gourlay said. What's more, the system has the performance to carry out the handoff and reauthentication between access points in 50 milliseconds or less, avoiding even a hiccup in a voice call, he added.