Foundry adds wireless line

Foundry Networks Inc. plans to go beyond its copper/fibre roots this month when it launches enterprise wireless LAN access points, supporting several 802.11 flavours with features such as Power over Ethernet and 802.1x security.

The company – known more for pushing big bandwidth over fibre and copper – reportedly also will offer software upgrades for its existing LAN equipment that will add WLAN switching capabilities, such as access point management and control.

Industry watchers and customers have anticipated such developments from Foundry, which has been mum, as rivals such as Enterasys Networks Inc., Extreme Networks Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Nortel Networks Corp. have unveiled access point and WLAN switch products earlier this year.

“We’re excited to be getting the Foundry (wireless) products,” says Richard Nelson, director of information processing at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (USC-ISI), a supercomputing research center. Foundry’s WLAN access points are slated for a beta test at the USC-ISI, which runs a network of Foundry switches for desktop connections, as well as Gigabit and 10G Ethernet in the core. Cisco Aironet WLAN equipment also is installed. Depending on how the beta test goes, Nelson says he might keep a dual-Cisco/Foundry Wi-Fi network, or opt for an all-Foundry infrastructure.

Wireless access-point management is sometimes difficult, he adds, because there is no easy way to combine management functions of his Foundry wired and Cisco wireless gear. Having WLAN and wired LAN gear act seamlessly as one system is something Nelson says he has been hoping for.

“The ability to add wireless management to switches through a software upgrade is also interesting,” Nelson says, because his organization won’t have to buy new network gear to manage the access points.

Foundry is expected to release WLAN access points that will support IEEE 802.11a (54M bit/sec), 802.11b (11M bit/sec) and 802.11g, which supports speeds up to 54M bit/sec.

It’s expected that Foundry’s access points will support 802.3af PoE standard, letting the devices receive AC power and Ethernet connectivity over a single Category 5 or 6 wire. Competitors such as 3Com, Avaya, Cisco and HP offer POE access points and switches. The access points will work with Foundry’s PoE switches, which the company released in March, or any other 802.3af-compliant products. For security, 802.1x port authentication will be included in the access points, allowing the devices to force authentication at the connection level through a RADIUS server.

In the fourth quarter, Foundry plans to release software upgrades for its FastIron stackable switches that will let boxes manage and configure Foundry access points attached to the switch. Industry watchers familiar with Foundry’s plans say the upgrade basically will turn any Foundry stackable into a WLAN switch, with security, management and roaming management features comparable to those in products from Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., AireSpace Inc., Extreme, Hewlett-Packard Co., Nortel Networks Corp. and Trapeze Networks Inc.

Sources say Foundry will extend its WLAN switch software to its chassis switches in the first quarter of next year. This addition will allow gear such as BigIron and FastIron core switches to have WLAN control and configuration capabilities.

Foundry would not respond to specific questions on the unannounced products, but said it is developing a Wi-Fi strategy with products to be announced this month.

Foundry’s wireless jump follows similar moves this year from competitors Extreme and HP. And in the second quarter, Enterasys announced new ASIC architecture that lets its gear provide some of the security, quality of service and manageability features that WLAN switches offer.

“Wireless is a move Foundry has to make,” says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group. While not commenting specifically on any of Foundry’s anticipated Wi-Fi products, Kerravala says wireless would complement Foundry’s product menu, even if the technology is somewhat out of the vendor’s focus.

“Foundry has always been known as the high-performance switch company,” he says. “Wireless would be a bit of a diversion from that, but it’s necessary for them to have.” Keeping up with rivals 3Com Corp., Cisco, Enterasys, Extreme, HP and Nortel has a lot to do with Foundry’s strategy, he says.