Cisco shares security technology for WLANs

Cisco Systems recently announced its Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) vVersion 1.0, a program that further entrenches the company into the wireless LAN (WLAN) arena by sharing its technology with other vendors.

The no-cost licensing scheme and testing program is targeted at third-party client adapters of the company’s Aironet WLAN infrastructure and a handful of silicon suppliers that produce products that are Cisco-compatible.

For example, IBM’s ThinkPad line of notebook computers will be CCX-enabled and Intel Corp., a lead collaborator along with Cisco in this endeavour, recently released Centrino, a chip for mobile devices that is also CCX compliant.

The list of seven suppliers includes Atheros Communications Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel and IBM Corp.

Some of CCX’s key features focus on security and management. Its main objective is to provide interoperability between the client’s WLAN solution and Cisco’s WLAN infrastructure, explained Bill Rossi, vice-president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit at Cisco.

Rossi said the company offers backward compatibility support for 802.11a and .11b and in the future, to .11g and dual-radio .11ag devices. He called it an important part of CCX.

“We believe that CCX is complementary to industry efforts such as the Wi-Fi Alliance and the IEEE,” he said. Ultimately, the goal is to accelerate WLAN adoption in the enterprise, he noted.

Yet, WLAN to date is being driven by the small and home office market and consumer segment. A recent reported published by Toronto-based SeaBoard Group Inc. noted that enterprise adoption is growing – but slowly. It also found that the cost benefits of Wi-Fi and the like cannot be ignored.

Chris Kozup, senior research analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group, said the time for WLAN adoption is between now and next year, when the declining costs for WLANs should make it increasingly attractive to the enterprise.

“Enterprises are experiencing a hefty grassroots push for the adoption of wireless technology,” Kozup said. He added that the challenge is to avoid the mixed bag of protocols that, in the past, has included token ring, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and Frame Relay.

“What they don’t want is to repeat past mistakes,” Kozup said. He added that LANs employing mixed protocols and disparate desktop computer platforms slipped in “through the back door,” making it difficult for corporations to standardize.

Concerns over security remain the biggest obstacle to enterprise adoption. Kozup said vendors could make WLAN deployment less arduous by collaborating, just as they are with Cisco’s CCX.

CCX Version 2.0 is slated for release over the next several months. Rossi said it will focus on enhancements to security in Wi-Fi protected access and one-time password support for authentication, improved roaming in remote areas and enhanced management features to give IT more control over the WLAN environment.