New Gartner Magic Quadrant topic: Unified wired and wireless LAN

Gartner is dumping its wireless LAN and LAN switching categories and replacing them with one on unified wired and wireless LAN access and another on the data center network.

Gartner will cease publishing separate Magic Quadrants on LAN Switching and Wireless LAN, replacing them with one called Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure, announced this month, and another on data center networking, to be unveiled later this year.

The changes reflect a deep separation in how enterprises buy and build at the network edge and the data center, as well as a shift toward integrated wired and wireless management to support bring your own device (BYOD) programs, enterprise mobility and guest networking.

Edge switching has become so standardized that network managers believe they can spend less on the hardware. Yet they are finding they must place more emphasis on integrating wired and wireless networks and implementing identity management and policy control to handle BYOD and mobility. Meanwhile, buying in the data center is not so much about price, but about technical innovation that is still evolving, said Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Mark Fabbi.

"We [created new categories] because LAN switching isn't really a market anymore; it's two or three different markets," said Fabbi. Workgroup switching and the data center are now seen as "different decisions fighting for buying dollars," he added.

Also, lumping data-center LAN infrastructure into LAN switching left innovators like Arista Networks completely out of the mix, because such vendors only focus on data center innovation and not at all on edge access infrastructure, Fabbi said.

Why combined wired and wireless LAN access infrastructure in the Magic Quadrant?

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In the new Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure category, vendors get points not only for offering both wired and wireless LAN access hardware, but also for offering management and security services that reach across the two media.

Only one third of enterprises are building wired and wireless networks together, so the new Quadrant category is a bit "aspirational," said Fabbi. Nevertheless, Gartner is "seeing a growing requirement to manage the edge as one. It shouldn't matter if you've plugged in a laptop or got on wireless at the office. If you're using a corporate-provided device, all of the policies about what you can access and how it's delivered should be the same," Fabbi said. And within that context, there should be another set of policies that specify what can be accessed once an employee logs on with a personal device.

The three leaders in the new Gartner Magic Quadrant, Aruba, Cisco and HP Networking, all have wired switching portfolios and extensive wireless LAN offerings. But more importantly they have integrated management and services across wired and wireless. All three have identity management applications that can be applied to corporate-issued and personal devices and let enterprises manage network access by user identity regardless of device. They also have guest networking management functions and provide visibility across infrastructures.

Among the leaders, Gartner cited Aruba for its ClearPass technology, a wired and wireless identity-based access management and device onboarding platform that works across a multivendor environment. The report also highlighted HP Networking's Intelligent Management Center, which provides a single-pane-of-glass view across wired and wireless and enables integrated security and policy enforcement. Finally, Gartner applauded Cisco's progress in its Prime management suite and Identity Services Engine (ISE).

Meanwhile Juniper and Avaya landed in the Visionaries section of the Quadrant and Brocade ended up in the niche area due to a lack of wired and wireless integration.

John Turner, director of networks and systems at Brandeis University, which uses Aruba's technology, says Gartner's Magic Quadrant changes are reflective of both a mobile explosion and the idea that "you can't look at wired and wireless completely separately anymore." For Brandeis, using ClearPass was a step toward bringing advanced wireless capabilities to the wired environment that had been lagging in management innovation.

"Most solutions give a complete vision of what's going on the wireless side -- how many users there are, where they are, what device they're using. That kind of info was never apparent on the wired side," said Turner. "Now we are seeing it on the wired side, and we have a complete view of what we're doing. We selected Aruba to have that vision across both."

Aruba is the only company in the leadership category that was once solely a wireless company, but the company introduced a new line of access switches last year. Ben Gibson, Aruba's chief marketing officer, said the wireless-centric slant to Gartner's new access infrastructure Quadrant category is expected. While most of Aruba's customers are still not jointly planning their wired and wireless infrastructure, there is an "edict" among them that you implement "wireless everywhere you can and wired where you must." This emerging practice reflects the explosion of mobile devices that now make up almost 50% of all enterprise endpoints, according to Gibson.

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