2013 Campus networking outlook: LANs finally unify wired and wireless

Forrester Research analyst Andre Kindness said campus LANs will finally have true unified wired and wireless infrastructure in 2013.

Campus networking has lacked innovation for a few years, but 2013 may switch things up a bit. While wireless LAN vendors will be pushing faster 802.11ac networks this year, the industry may also see some architectural changes that could finally deliver true unified wireless and wired campus LANs.

We asked Andre Kindness, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., to share his views on the changes we'll see in campus networking this year.

Gigabit wireless LANs have to enable VDI, BYOD

Enterprises will start to invest in 802.11ac wireless LAN products in 2013. Gigabit Wi-Fi isn't necessarily a ground-breaking innovation, Kindness insisted, but the faster and more robust technology will allow enterprises to get more innovative with how they use their wireless networks. With more bandwidth, enterprises will be able to partition wireless airspace for bring your own device (BYOD).

"The extra speed will presumably enable consumerization of the edge," he said. "Even with 802.11n, there has been a struggle with partitioning that shared environment to enable those personal devices."

The extra bandwidth will also enable enterprises to push virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to those BYOD devices, offering IT departments more security and control.

"We're seeing this shift toward more [BYOD] control. That's why VDI has been important, not for smartphones, but for bring your own PC. That type of environment is becoming more acceptable. It's still low on the priority list, but there is a recognition that companies are looking to head in that direction, especially with the MacBook Air."

Campus networking: A wireless architectural shift in LANs

More networking vendors will push wireless LAN intelligence out from central controllers to the edge of campus LANs in 2013, Kindness said. Aerohive Networks already has a controller-less architecture. Meraki, recently acquired by Cisco, has semi-autonomous access points (APs) managed by a cloud-based controller. Aruba Networks, Motorola and others have made some of their APs more intelligent so that they can operate to varying extents without a central controller.

Read more of our 2013 networking outlook stories

2013 networking outlook: This year's networking trends

This year the industry will introduce wired campus switches that can provide distributed control plane functionality for wireless networking. Broadcom introduced the StrataXGS BCM65520 last year, switching to silicon that supports CAPWAP (Control and Provisioning of Wireless Access Points) tunneling. By terminating CAPWAP at an edge switch instead of a controller, the switches can do some of the packet processing in a wireless LAN. By pushing some of this control out to edge switches, vendors will lower the amount of traffic that APs send to central controllers.

This approach will also help vendors sell more switches, and it will usher in true unified wireless and wired networks.

"That will help them differentiate," Kindness said. "[Edge switches] have become so commoditized. Traditional vendors are looking to differentiate themselves and charge more per port on the edge. Now they can say, 'Buy our unified wired and wireless.' Historically the wired and wireless solutions that Cisco, HP and Juniper have talked about were never really unified. That was marketing hype, except maybe from a management perspective."

This wireless LAN architectural transition will take at least five years to shake out, but eventually even the pure wireless overlay vendors will move in that direction, he said.

"Aruba has already been thinking about that. That's why they came out with their own wired edge switches."

Expect some discussion of campus SDN

Don't expect vendors to start offering software-defined networking (SDN) products for the campus network in 2013, but you will hear some discussion of the subject, Kindness said.

"Early discussion from the vendor side will be around mobility of users and directing flows to the right location," he said. "One area is around network access controls. SDN can do a lot of that."

SDN also has the potential to help partition campus bandwidth for applications like video, he said. There won't be much in the way of products in 2013, but networking pros can expect some early marketing around these ideas.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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