Meru boosts Wi-Fi security on private devices

FRAMINGHAM  — WLAN vendor Meru Networks Inc. has announced a new optional software module that lets its Wi-Fi networks recognize privately owned clients and automatically configure them to meet corporate security and management policies.

The module, dubbed Smart Connect, is part of a new release of the company’s network operating system, new 802.11n access points with radios that achieve 450 Mbps data rates, and a new family of WLAN controllers that support more users and more backhaul capacity.

Companies face a rising tide of mobile Wi-Fi devices accessing their networks, often from users with three or four devices, including some they buy themselves.

In March, Aruba Networks Inc. rolled out a line of access layer Ethernet switches that co-ordinate with the vendor’s WLAN controllers to configure Wi-Fi clients such as smartphones and tablets with the relevant security and management policies. In September, Extreme Networks unveiled an iPhone-size access point, designed and built by Motorola Solutions, that can replace an existing Ethernet wall jack in just a couple of minutes: the Altitude 4511, dual-stream 802.11n radio, with a special designed antenna. It’s intended to quickly and cheaply create pervasive 11n networks to support the new generation of mobile devices.

Meru’s newest products are part of this trend.

Meru Smart Connect is a licensed, optional module for the company’s Identity Manager application. When either a wired or wireless client attempts to log on for the first time, Smart Connect sees it, and checks to see if it’s a corporate or personally owed device. Then, it downloads a temporary agent program, which configures the device based on existing corporate security policies and access permissions, including setting up 802.1x authentication.

Smart Connect draws on either a Meru- or corporate-generated database of device types, software versions and user information. It supports a wide range of commonly used WLAN security protocols such as WPA2 Enterprise. It works with Microsoft Windows, Apple iOS, Apple Mac and Android clients and can work with multi-vendor WLAN networks.

Once configured, the client device can log on subsequently and have the policies enforced automatically.

The new access point model is the AP400 line. All models have up to three 802.11n radios, each of which supports three data streams. The three streams give each radio a data rate of 450Mbps, with actually throughput typically in the 200Mbps-300Mbps range, according to Meru [Nasdaq: MERU].

One specialized model, the AP433is, uses one of the radios as a permanent RF sensor, with integrated spectrum management software that monitors all channels on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.

The new release of Meru’s network operating system, System Director 5.0, can detect and identify a range of unified communications servers, such as Microsoft Corp.’s Lync 2010, which combine services such as IP-based voice communications, IM, and audio, video and Web conferencing. Once detected, the 5.0 release can automatically provision the appropriate quality of service level and guarantee it.

The new controllers, both 1U rack mounts, are the mid-range MC3200, which supports up to 200 access points with 4 1G Ethernet ports, and the high-end MC4200, which adds a module with two 10G Ethernet ports, to support up to 500 access points. It also adds a redundant power supply.

Smart Connect is part of Identity Manager, and starts at US$995 for 50 user licenses. (Another existing optional program for Identity Manager is Guest Management, which starts at US$3,995 for a 50-user license.) The AP433 model access point, with three three-stream 11n radios, is US$1,995. The MC3200 controller starts at US$10,995; the MC4200 at US$17,995. All these products are available now.

The spectrum monitoring AP433is access point will ship later this year, priced at US$2,495.

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