Cisco has pushed its Unified Access networking strategy past the management layer by introducing a new edge switch, which has wireless LAN control functionality, and processes both wired and wireless traffic on the same platform.
With this switch, enterprises will no longer have to tunnel traffic from wireless access points (APs) to a central controller. Instead they can terminate wireless traffic on an edge switch, where they will be able to secure and manage both wired and wireless traffic.
Cisco has "truly for the first time integrated their wired and wireless infrastructure in terms of having one box and using one ASIC [application-specific integrated circuit] that really handles traffic irrespective of whether it is coming in from the wired or wireless LAN standpoint," said Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
The new Cisco Catalyst 3850 switch, a successor to the workhorse 3750, is built with a new, programmable ASIC, the Unified Access Data Plane (UADP) chip, which gives it the wireless LAN control functionality. A single stack of Catalyst 3850 will support up to 50 access points and 2,000 clients with 40 Gbps of controller throughput.
"In this day and age where wireless traffic has really exploded, and you're carrying all kinds of heavy, latency-sensitive wireless traffic like voice and video, routing all the traffic back to a controller adds an exceptionally large amount of overhead on the network, both local area and wide area," Mehra said.
Not only does this integrated wireless LAN control reduce load on the network, it also enhances traffic management and Quality of Service (QoS) functionality. Because traffic from the wireless LAN is no longer tunneled, it crosses the rest of the wired network as standard IP traffic. Enterprises can now apply the same policies and controls to wired and wireless traffic.
As a result, Cisco customers can do things like granular, hierarchical QoS across their entire infrastructure, said Rob Soderbery, senior vice president and general manager for Cisco's enterprise networking business.
"When you were processing [wired and wireless] streams in different places, doing QoS across that was difficult," he said. "Now you can see all the users and data in one place, and you can set tiered levels on QoS. You can do QoS on a given access point, so you can make sure no one is frozen out. You can then set QoS up to a switch and up to a branch and manage that entire path. "
With the Catalyst 3850, wireless LAN traffic will become more efficient, particularly as users are moving from access point to access point, said Andre Kindness, senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.
"When you're bouncing from AP to AP, you end up tunneling back [from the controller] to the AP where you started from and that's not always the best path possible, from a VoIP call and latency perspective. You want to follow the user. That's why there's this movement to pushing control back to the edge. You start enforcing policies based on users and applications and where the best connection is."
The Cisco Catalyst 3850 is a stackable switch that ships with either 24 or 48 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports, with or without Power over Ethernet (PoE) and optional modules for 10 GbE uplinks. Its prices are identical to comparable configurations of the Catalyst 3750, although customers will have to pay an additional license to activate the wireless control functionality.
Goodbye AirOS: IOS to rule wireless LAN
In addition to the Catalyst 3850, Cisco introduced the Cisco 5760 wireless LAN controller for customers who are not yet ready to dump their controller-based systems. This premium device can manage 1,000 access points and 12,000 clients with 60 Gbps of throughput. It runs on the same ASIC platform as the Catalyst 3850 switch.
The 5760 is also the first Cisco wireless LAN controller to ever run IOS, marking a departure from the AirOS operating system that has powered the company's controllers since it acquired wireless networking vendors Airespace. Soderbery said Cisco will gradually upgrade all of its wireless controllers to run IOS instead of AirOS.
"All the training and learning that network managers have undergone with IOS, they can now use those skills and leverage them on just one platform, whether for wired or wireless," Mehra said.
Many enterprises will be slow to adopt the Catalyst 3850 with its wireless LAN control function, so central controllers running IOS will be important to Cisco's efforts to unify wired and wireless, Forrester's Kindness said.
Cisco is "worried about customers who just bought 3750s in the last year or two," he said. "Most edge switches are kept around for five to seven years so it doesn't make sense for them to replace the edge with this new switch."
Because the 5760 runs IOS, network managers can take advantage of the same services and features that are available on Cisco's switches, including Application Visibility and Control (AVC) and TrustSec. Users can also set policies, such as QoS, on the controller in the same way they do on switches and routers.
The 5760 controller has a base list price of $20,000.
ISE-MDM integration and Prime 360 Experience
Cisco also updated its Identity Services Engine (ISE) and Prime Infrastructure. ISE 1.2 now integrates with mobile device management (MDM) software from Good Technology, Airwatch, MobileIron, Zenprise and SAP.
Prime Infrastructure 2.0 has a new 360 Degree Experience that allows network managers to pivot their view of network activity by users, devices, applications and services. With this new feature, a network manager can click to see, for instance, all the network users who are using Twitter, or all the people who are connecting via an iPad, Soderbery said.
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