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Cisco makes a bid for practical WLANs

New MSE appliance provides open API for WLAN apps

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One appliance - less configuration

There have been specialist appliances for some of these jobs, for instance, Cisco's Wireless Location Appliance 2700, launched in 2005, and Trapeze's LA-200, launched in 2007. Specialist vendors such as Divitas offer appliances for fixed-mobile convergence.

The MSE is intended as a single place for all these applications. "The issue is - do you want to have a separate appliance for each of these services, or an integrated appliance," said Gibson. "If it's not integrated, it will require a lot more configuration, and require third parties to have a footprint on the end point.

The MSE doesn't handle network packets - those are managed by the wireless LAN controller. It also does not run the mobility applications, but provides a SOAP (web services) interface for them to use. Separating the network and the applications will allow new applications, and should also allow the network itself to evolve, says Calhoun: "it will be possible to add in different kinds of communications, such as ultra-wideband, ZigBee or WiMax, at the controller level without disrupting the applications," he said.

Fundamentally, it's supposed to make things easier for users: "This is not business as usual," said Pat Calhoun, Cisco's chief technology officer for wireless. "It's not building silo on silo, it translates into a far easier job for our customers."

Four Cisco apps

So far, four Cisco software products run on the MSE: a platform to support location tracking, called "context-aware software," a wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS), a secure client management system; and "mobile intelligent roaming," which supports fixed-mobile convergence.

  • "Many of our customers have demanded that they want to move to something that is Wi-Fi based for location, with high level accuracy and the ability to scale," said Calhoun of the context-aware element. "We will drive accuracy rates - depending on density - down to 3m or less, and it will work in ruggedised environments with high ceilings [that tend to reduce Wi-Fi location accuracy]" .
  • The Cisco WIPS will be validated to meet the retail industry's PCI requirements, said Calhoun. The new WIPS would end the debate about whether there is a choice between full-strength security products, and wireless ones which till now have sacrificed some feature depth, he said: "It's very rich and stands toe to toe with other IPS products."
  • The secure client manager is intended to ease the job of IT managers who have to connect more and more wireless devices to their networks. "It's been predicted that there will soon be two billion wireless LAN endpoints, and we hear from customers that 80 percent of IT staff time is spent purely on troubleshooting client connectivity and provisioning those devices," he said. "There needs to be an answer to centrally tracking this." The application on MSE, uses technology in Wi-Fi clients, including Cisco's CCX extensions and 802.1x to automate provisioning and management.
  • The mobile intelligent roaming software facilitates handoff between private Wi-Fi networks and the cellular networks. "We've been getting significant traction for the Nokia E-series phones and our business mobility solution," said Calhoun. "This turns that into a seamless roaming solution." By providing an integration level between different networks, the software should make it easier and quicker for users to adopt converged solutions said Calhoun.

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