Enterprise Wi-Fi vendor Bluesocket has been bought by Adtran, which plans to hammer Bluesocket's "virtualized" wireless LAN like a stake into the hearts of its WLAN rivals, Cisco and Aruba Networks.
Adtran is betting that enterprises making the massive shift to pervasive 802.11n WLANs, will also want to add a virtual wireless architecture to their existing, VMware-based virtualized services. With Bluesocket's approach, customers can eliminate the costs and overhead of hardware controllers, and be sure of having the backend resources to cope with the flood of Wi-Fi devices seeking access, according to Adtran.
Announced yesterday, the acquisition was completed Aug. 4. Adtran executives had concluded earlier that a WLAN product offering was a strategic necessity and evaluated a number of possible acquisitions to obtain one. They settled on Bluesocket to leverage the rising tide of 802.11n network upgrades and offer a virtualized service that would fit easily into enterprise data centers, which are a VMware stronghold.
Adtran declined to comment on the details of the transaction. Bluesocket now is part of Adtran's enterprise division, but the product line will also be available to the company's service provider division.
Instead of talking to a conventional WLAN hardware controller, Bluesocket's 802.11n Wi-Fi access points talk to a software application that loads into a VMware hypervisor. Like a controller, this "virtual WLAN controller" centralizes management tasks, such as configuration, monitoring, policy setting, security and trouble-shooting. But unlike a controller, Bluesocket's software also centralizes system-level control tasks, which actually carry out the nitty-gritty work of such things as security, scheduling and policy enforcement.
[Network World blogger, and wireless consultant Craig Mathias explores virtual WLANs in a whitepaper, "Rethinking Wireless LAN Infrastructure: Virtualization is the Key" which Bluesocket hosts on its website.]
The overall idea - of shifting various functions from the controller to the access points -- isn't new and various WLAN vendors have been doing this piecemeal for several years, even the controller-based market leaders, Cisco and Aruba. Bluesocket says its its vWLAN option for VMware, introduced one year ago, is the first to run under a hypervisor and hence the first genuinely virtual wireless offering.
Aerohive and Meraki also offer "controller-less" architectures, though the two vendors approach that in different ways.
Executives with Bluesocket and Adtran reiterated Bluesocket's argument that scaling is the Achilles' heel of conventional controller products. The volume of Wi-Fi traffic is growing, with increasing amounts of video and voice content; in addition to laptops, there is a wave of Wi-Fi enabled smartphones and tablets, all with high-throughput 802.11n adapters, pouring into the enterprise. "Controllers were never designed for all these tablets and smartphones," says Chris Koeneman, vice president of sales for Bluesocket, Burlington, Massachusetts.
Bluesocket's vWLAN equips the access points to handle data routing, firewall protection, and a host of other tasks typically done by the controller. The relatively small hypervisor-based application handles only the management and control tasks. As part of a virtual environment, in a central data center, vWLAN is accessed by network administrators via a browser, which gives them visibility into access points and users anywhere in the world.
"The [WLAN] market leaders are vulnerable to a breakthrough technology like vWLAN from Bluesocket," says Gary Bolton, vice president of global marketing, for Adtran, based in Huntsville, Alabama.
But can't Adtrans better-known enterprise rivals do the same thing? "Cisco, Aruba, and Ruckus [Wireless] have moved to a distributed data plane," says Bolton. "And some management functions are shifting to hypervisors like VMware. But they're not yet moving the control plane into VMware."
In July, Adtran reported record second quarter sales, of over $184 million, up 23% compared to the same quarter a year ago, its fifth quarterly revenue record in a row. Net income jumped 33% to over $38 million compared to a year ago. Growth was especially strong in the key areas of broadband access, optical access and internetworking, according to the company.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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