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Access points slim down for summer

Extreme says its slimmed-down access point is easier to provision, manage and secure; industry experts explain why "thin" APs are strutting their stuff this summer.

Switch vendors are beginning to fatten up their efforts to support "thin" access point (AP) deployments.

As predicted three months ago in IDC's "Worldwide WLAN 4Q04 Market Share Update," companies such as Extreme Networks Inc. are moving toward thin APs with centralized management to ease the pain of provisioning, configuration changes and security.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor today unveiled its new WLAN platform Summit Wireless Mobility (WM) series switches and Altitude 350 APs.

With capacities of up to 200 APs per switch, the Summit WM1000 switch scales to support large WLAN installations. The Summit WM100 is designed for small and midsized business (SMB) WLAN deployments.

Scott Lucas, director of product marketing for Extreme, said the company's new approach helps to build and manage advanced wireless infrastructures capable of supporting a variety of connections to include guests, legacy devices and converged applications.

Need extra help?

Sam Lucero of InStat/MDR and Burton Group's Michael Disabado offer up a few tips for implementing a new WLAN platform.
Sam Lucero, research analyst with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based In-Stat/MDR, said other notable features about this offering include fast Layer 3 roaming, which he said is essential for Voice over WLAN; emphasis on working through heterogeneous Layer 2 or 3 wired switching infrastructure; and the provisioning of access using service set identifiers (SSIDs) to allow simplified management without resorting to the more complicated use of virtual LANs.

Announcements such as this, Lucero said, are part of a general trend away from independently managed "intelligent" APs, to centrally managed thin APs.

"Vendors vary in the details of how they're enabling this transition," he said, "but they're all responding to the same underlying need for greater ease of deployment, provisioning, management and security."

Michael Disabato, service director for Midvale, Utah-based research firm Burton Group, said the WLAN market's transition toward central management has been slowly happening during the past few years. He said it hit a watershed point when Cisco Systems Inc. purchased Airespace Inc., a wireless LAN switch startup specializing in thin APs.

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But the thin AP architecture isn't the only thing Extreme is transitioning away from. Disabato said it's also moving away from a proprietary approach.

"What they're doing is stepping up to compete with Airespace, Trapeze and Aruba," he added. "And they're not as concerned as they were before about tying people into an Extreme switch to do it."

According to Lucero, Extreme is competing with everyone in the enterprise WLAN market, both the Wi-Fi switch startups and the wired switch vendors that dabble in the WLAN market. He said Extreme is responding to the success of wireless products from WLAN switch specialists such as Cisco and Hewlett-Packard Co., and through partnerships with Alcatel, Nortel Networks Ltd. and 3Com Corp.

Scheduled to be available in July 2005, the Summit WM100 begins at $16,995 and $32,995 for the Summit WM1000.

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