Colubris rolls out WLAN controllers

Colubris next week plans to unveil the first of its wireless LAN controllers aimed at letting its corporate customers centralize security and management for its line of intelligent access points.

Like somewhat similar products from the rivals such as Bluesocket and Reefedge, the Colubris controllers plug into an existing Ethernet infrastructure, and handle wireless net configuration, management and security. The existing LAN switches, and in some cases, the Colubris access points themselves, handle the wireless data packets near the edge of the network.

The new Colubris InMotion 5000 series controllers are rack-mounted appliances. The InMotion MultiService Controller 5500 is designed for large-scale deployments: it can oversee up to 200 Colubris access points and, potentially, several thousand users. The MSC-5500 has twin gigabit Ethernet ports. The MSC-5200 is aimed at small offices and remote locations, and supports up to 25 access points and several hundred users. It was two 10/100 Ethernet ports. Both run dual Intel Xeon chips, and a Linux-based operating system.

“MultiService” refers to applications and features bundled with the controllers, and available to clients through the access points. These services include automatic self-configuration and authentication for the devices, seamless roaming among access points even on different subnets, public/guest access rights, and enhanced wireless VoIP.

Colubris is also introducing a new WLAN network management application to view, control, and manage controllers and access points.

The new controllers are the first products the company said it would deliver two months ago. Colubris plans to continue to offer intelligent (sometimes called “fat”) access points, to offload data handling to the network edge, while centralizing control and management of those device. By contrast, WLAN switch makers like Aruba and Trapeze generally offer a box that incorporates the data switching with the management and control functions, so that all WLAN traffic has to pass through these boxes.

Colubris executives say their approach means that each InMotion controller can handle many more access points than boxes from the WLAN switches vendors.

One weak point in the current product set is radio frequency security. Colubris is partnering with AirMagnet, and in August, will begin offering a version of controller software that full incorporates AirMagnets wireless intrusion prevention, and RF management, application.

The next step will be in 2006, when Colubris plans to introduce a line of access switches that, with new silicon from chipmakers like SiiNet and Broadcom, can process both wireless and wired traffic. That change will eliminate the need to have two separate nets, one for wired and one for wireless users.

The MSC 5000 controllers would continue to centralize control functions, and higher-level network management systems would be able to view and manage all network elements and clients.

Analystrs say the new devices offer an expanding array of WLAN options for the enterprise. “There will be a number of way to build the [wireless] net of the future,” says Craig Mathias, principal with Farpoint Group, an Ashland, Mass., consulting company specializing in wireless nets. “The important thing is that wired and wireless are no longer separate networks.”

Colubris’ approach can be seen in its enhanced VoIP service supported via the new controllers, in tandem with the access points. Colubris tweaked both so the access points implement controller-configured quality of service requirements, and improved the quality of the wireless connection.

The changes let the access points more effectively route wireless voice traffic at the edge, either passing it to a IP PBX or, with calls using Session Initiation Protocol, route the call directly from one handset to another. Rival architectures send all of the VoIP traffic through a centralized switch first.

Both controllers will ship in July. List prices are US$4,800 for the entry-level MSC-5200, and $16,000 for the MSC-5500. Colubris says the former can support up to 1,500 users, depending on applications, on as many as 25 access points; the latter, up to 5,000 users, also depending on applications, on up to 200 access points.

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