Extreme Networks has introduced a port extender that helps enterprises cover blind spots in the wired edge network that many companies cover with unmanaged and unsecured consumer equipment from Linksys and Netgear.
The ReachNXT 100-8t is an enterprise-grade, 8-port device that can eliminate the shortages of network ports in certain locations, such as conference rooms and manufacturing floors.
Some companies solve the problem of a shortage of wired ports on the edge of a network by installing enterprise wireless LAN technology, but this approach doesn't fit every organization in every situation.
"[Wireless LAN] is what most of our customers do, but there are some locations where you can't use wireless, and even some locations where you have wireless but you have guests and customers who come in," said Harpreet Chada, senior director of product management for Extreme. "They want to offer guest access in a way that is simpler."
When wireless LAN isn't the answer, IT organizations sometimes install switches and Wi-Fi routers from Linksys or Netgear. In some cases, end users might install one of these switches on their own. These devices work, but they offer very little control and become blind spots to network managers.
Jon Oltsik, principal analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, said these consumer devices, whether rogue or sanctioned, usually appear as a single PC with a MAC address. In reality, they have multiple PCs connecting through several ports, and there is no way to secure the devices and authenticate users.
"The point is control at the edge of the network," Oltsik said. "If we assume the edge of the network is a port in the wall, that's not a safe assumption since people can do things like plug a wired or wireless device in. We need some types of safeguards against that."
Enterprises can generally block consumer Wi-Fi devices with frequency scanners and port blockers, Oltsik said, but anyone can easily plug a wired Linksys or Netgear device on a port without network managers knowing.
"What network managers can do is block these devices through policy, which is sort of draconian unless you have a better alternative," he said.
Extreme claims the ReachNXT device is that alternative. The device acts as an extension of an Extreme switch. When plugged into the network, it automatically acquires its configuration from an upstream Extreme switch. Network managers can control the device through Extreme's network management software EPICenter. They can track multiple MAC addresses connected to the device and data that flows through it.
Oltsik said ReachNXT could help a casino expand the number of network-connected slot machines it has without adding new ports to wiring closets. It can also help companies that have a large number of guest users who need connectivity from a conference room.
"For instance, you bring in outside auditors and assign them to a conference room once a year, and you might want to restrict them from the wired network for security purposes," he said. "And you want visibility and control over the ports they use. This would be an example where you use [ReachNXT]."
Beta user Chris Howard has been using the ReachNXT devices to save money on network drops. A network engineer with Michigan State University's Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, Howard said his organization leases space within two hospitals for two remote doctors' offices.
"We have a large clinic on our main campus, and we connect leased space in these two hospitals with fiber," Howard said.
These partner hospitals often shift leased offices around the building as demand for space dictates, he said. In the past, every time he had to relocate the offices within a building, he had to hire contractors to pull multiple network drops to the new location for each user in the office, costing $250 a drop.
Howard considered using wireless LAN access points to provide connectivity to these constantly shifting offices, but he said there was too much interference, given that the hosting hospitals had competing wireless infrastructure in place. Consumer-grade devices also weren't an option.
"We didn't like Linksys and Netgear," he said, "because -- from a security level -- they didn't allow us to see what's attached to the connection."
Howard said he is now using the ReachNXT device in each of these offices, allowing him to pull just one cable for connectivity.
"We pull one connection and drop this device into the office instead of having to pull eight separate cables to the office itself," he said. "It's a quick and dirty way of moving things around. This allows us to use our security products to see what's connecting to the network."
Chada said the ReachNXT 100-8t is the first in a family of port-extender devices that Extreme will roll out. It has a built-in fiber-copper media converter, and it can be powered by Power-over-Ethernet (PoE).
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor