With its acquisition of wireless LAN design, management and security vendor AirMagnet, Fluke Networks is positioning itself to be a vendor of choice for enterprises that are trying to manage hybridized networks with both wired Ethernet and wireless LAN technology.
"The bottom line is that enterprises are going to have hybrid networks for a really, really long time," said Paul DeBeasi, senior analyst with Burton Group. "I'm having a lot more phone conversations with enterprises that are looking at new deployments where they want to just go all wireless for network access. What that really means is wireless LAN for access and wired Ethernet used for backhaul and also for switch trunks and data center connections."
With AirMagnet, Fluke gains real credibility in wireless LAN management. Fluke had some wireless management capabilities prior to this deal, but nothing that put it at the forefront of the market, DeBeasi said. AirMagnet, however, is clearly a leader in the wireless LAN management space.
Fluke's portfolio includes performance management, analysis and monitoring, and testing and troubleshooting tools for wired network infrastructure. Although some of its products do have wireless LAN management capabilities, AirMagnet's wireless portfolio is far more comprehensive.
"We actually have some overlapping products which exist for core Wi-Fi troubleshooting needs in the enterprise," said David Coffin, president of Fluke Networks. "However, AirMagnet has a much more extensive line, which covers all phases of Wi-Fi, from site survey and deployment and design to performance monitoring and optimization. We intend to be -- and are in fact now -- the leader in the management of the access layer of networks, from wired to wireless, independent of how people are gaining access to the network."
AirMagnet has a broad portfolio of products that cover almost every aspect of running a wireless network. Those products range from wireless intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to troubleshooting tools such as Spectrum Analyzer, AirMedic and Wi-Fi Analyzer. AirMagnet also offers wireless LAN design tools like AirMagnet Survey and AirMagnet Planner, and it offers some application-specific tools, such as VoFi analyzer, a troubleshooting tool for voice-over-Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi). It also has a tight relationship with Cisco Systems, the market leader in both wired and wireless LAN hardware.
DeBeasi said that network management vendors need to prove that they can manage performance and security throughout a network regardless of the medium a user is accessing.
"When a user has a problem, it may be the wireless network or it may be the wired network," he said. "Or when you look at security issues, you want to be able to look at [them] from both the wireless side and the wired side. More and more enterprises are going to need products that address these needs. As wireless becomes more strategic and companies put more real-time applications like voice on the wireless network, you'll want your IT people to be able to diagnose problems as fast as they possibly can with these tools."
Very few of the leading independent network management vendors have done much to build up their wireless LAN management capabilities to date.
"Everyone has some kind of solution, but usually what those other vendors will do is put a wireless interface on a packet-capture product and add in a little bit of expertise," DeBeasi said. "But that's not the same as a company like AirMagnet, which has focused completely on wireless from Day 1."
Because there have been relatively few robust wireless LAN management solutions from the leading independent network management vendors, a new market of wireless LAN management vendors has sprung up over the last few years.
"There's been this little cottage industry around wireless that's really continued to thrive," said Jim Frey, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "There are a lot of little players out there that just focus on this area [of wireless LAN management], and the bigger tool vendors haven't really dived into it because it's such a specialized market."
However, larger companies, particularly infrastructure vendors, are clearly seeing the value of gaining expertise and credibility in wireless LAN management. In January 2008, Aruba Networks scooped up AirWave Wireless. Aruba has maintained the AirWave brand and now sells it as a key differentiator in its wireless LAN management story. Last September, Motorola bought AirDefense, a wireless LAN security vendor. And back in 2007, Cisco grabbed Cognio, developer of Spectrum Expert, a collection of wireless LAN management tools focused on spectrum analysis.
Those previous acquisitions were individual cases of infrastructure vendors recognizing a need to improve the manageability and security of their own hardware. Fluke, on the other hand, is a network management vendor that wants better credibility for management of third-party infrastructure.
That is why the skilled employees Fluke has gained with the AirMagnet deal are just as essential as the technology, DeBeasi said.
"Fluke is getting a great team and a great product," he said. "[AirMagnet] has a very strong talent pool. Their products are more than just an analyzer or packet catcher. They embed an awful lot of education and training into their products. There's a lot of explanation in them. You can really learn a lot as you use the products."
Coffin, Fluke's president, seemed to understand the human capital he was acquiring along with AirMagnet's technology portfolio.
"I've comprehensively met with the team at AirMagnet, and as a cultural fit, it's awesome," he said. "We're getting a great set of people in this acquisition."
Wireless LAN management platforms key differentiator for WLAN vendors
Enterprise wireless LAN security: 802.11 and seamless wireless roaming