Wireless switches attempt to target Wi-Fi hurdles

Wireless switches are making inroads into the enterprise with a set of management and deployment features designed to make Wi-Fi technologies a must-buy.

Vivato Networks Inc., Symbol Technologies Inc., Trapeze Networks and Aruba Wireless Networks are among the companies developing switches designed to overcome many of the hurdles preventing Wi-Fi from dominating the enterprise.

“The enterprise market is stagnating a bit,” said Dana Tardelli, a network research analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “The major areas [preventing widespread adoption] are still security and management. The networking fundamentals haven’t expanded to Wi-Fi yet.”

Late last month Vivato, a San Francisco-based startup, unveiled a wireless switch that transmits three simultaneous beams up to 300 metres, but more importantly, the switch features advanced security functions and can be managed centrally, similar to how Ethernet-based equipment is managed.

According to Phil Belanger, vice-president of marketing at Vivato, the architecture of a wireless switch is more analogous to the networking world IT managers know and trust.

“With our wireless switch we’re repackaging Wi-Fi to make it more enterprise-friendly,” explained Belanger, who agrees security is still the utmost concern of all IT managers. “Deploying multiple access points is expensive and time-consuming; a Wi-Fi switch eliminates these issues.”

Vivato’s switch also allows network administrators to detect rogue APs (access points) – access points that employees purchase and bring into work and plug directly into their company’s network. Installing rogue APs provides employees with their own wireless access, yet also gives IT departments fits as many of these rogue access points don’t adhere to an enterprise’s strict security policy, thus making the entire network vulnerable to attacks.

Wireless stalwart Symbol Technologies has already introduced a Wi-Fi switch, and officials at startups Trapeze Networks and Aruba Wireless Networks say they are developing wireless switches that address some limitations of today’s architected Wi-Fi equipment.

“Today Wi-Fi is expensive and complex to deploy,” divulged David Callisch, communications director at Aruba. “If something changes everything has to be touched.”

Callisch said security in Wi-Fi networks typically resides in access points and that accessing each device when security policies change can be difficult and time-consuming.

“Most access points in use today were never designed for the enterprise, but [rather] the home or small offices,” said Callisch, who adds that Arubais is currently in beta with its switch and anticipates shipping in late April.

However today’s Wi-Fi limitations are not the only thing affecting enterprise adoption. According to a report published by Synergy Research, the enterprise market grew only one per cent in the fourth quarter 2002 in comparison to the third quarter.

This stagnation is partially due to a perception that wireless LANs in the enterprise are “nice to have,” said Synergy analyst Aaron Vance in his report.

However, Vance and companies such as Symbol see Wi-Fi taking off in vertical industries such as health care, education, retail and shipping and logistics.

“Right now, Wi-Fi is an easily deferrable cost. It is not critical in most offices,” explains Ray Martinoe, general manager of the network systems group at Symbol. “[However] the technology will reach the mature phase soon and then we’ll see companies willing to invest and make those tough decisions.”