The heated race to accomplish unified wireless and wired LAN has just been ratcheted up by the Brocade Communications Systems-Motorola partnership announced Wednesday.
At the outset, Brocade will begin rebranding and selling Motorola's wireless LAN and security technology in a new OEM agreement, but the partnership will blossom in two more stages that involve joint product development over the next two years. The OEM deal replaces a partnership that Brocade held with Meru Networks that officially ends in December.
Brocade and Motorola's joint product development will focus on the creation of a blade version of Motorola's wireless LAN controller that enterprises can slide into the chassis of Brocade's FastIron Edge X switches, said Ken Cheng, Brocade vice president and general manager of the IP Products Division.
Many companies -- including Cisco Systems -- have promised a unified wireless and wired LAN architecture, but most have either produced a simple joint management plane or made forward-looking plans that have yet to materialize into actual equipment releases.
Brocade will also work Motorola's wireless intrusion detection and prevention (IDP) solution into its switches. Motorola gained that IDP solution as part of the 2008 acquisition of AirDefense.
"We actually want to have a single security functionality for wired and wireless users. Regardless of whether the user is connected into or inside the infrastructure, they will be subject to the same security protection," Cheng said.
Integrated wireless LAN follows the everything-in-one-chassis trend
The approach of using blades in a chassis to house applications that were once stand-alone appliances follows a larger networking trend. Both Cisco and HP ProCurve have switches with blades that host other applications, including security, WAN optimization, video distribution and more.
"It makes just as much sense to do that with wireless [controllers]," said Forrester Research analyst Chris Silva. "In general architecture terms, it's a trend."
Selling integrated wired and wireless LAN won't be easy
While the integrated technology makes sense, selling WLAN embedded on large wired switches will mean convincing customers to rip and replace, Silva said.
Brocade will do best to court customers that are ready for a network refresh and looking to dump Cisco or another competitor. Otherwise, it's an "ABC, Anybody but Cisco," customer base, he said.
Even in that case, Brocade has steep competition. Enterasys is working toward a unified wireless approach with its Siemens Enterprise Communications alliance and HP ProCurve is likely to integrate Colubris' WLAN technology into its own architecture.
Brocade's price point will make a big difference in this race, Silva said.
Brocade and Motorola go for managed WLAN
Even with the competition, Motorola and Brocade are likely to find new market share as a result of the third phase of the partnership, expected for rollout in 2011. Brocade and Motorola will enable both private and public cloud-based WLAN services. In the public cloud, service providers will host controllers in their data centers that will manage managed wireless access points (APs) at enterprise sites.
But the larger play may be in a private-cloud scenario, where Brocade and Motorola can scale WLANs up to much larger user bases. Corporations with hundreds of branch offices could host controllers in their own data centers, centralizing all management, with only APs in the remote locations. Security and other applications like Voice over WLAN would also be hosted in the data center.
"To manage all the security and … all these controllers in various spots is difficult and costly and you need expertise in every location," said Cheng. "With cloud computing, [large companies] can capture all the complexities with all the controllers centrally in a cloud."
As with the integrated architecture, selling cloud-based managed WLANs could be a challenge, analysts say.
"They're going toward a managed service model for WLAN, which doesn't have a great track record for customer appeal," said Silva, adding that small companies tend to be able to easily troubleshoot their own WLANs on-site and larger companies "want their hands on the network."
What's more, both cloud computing and WLANs have a track record of confusing enterprise users even with strong marketing campaigns. The combination of the two may throw buyers for a loop.
"Most people don't understand controllers, let alone virtual controllers. Sometimes we just baffle the daylights out of people without intending to do so," Farpoint Group founder Craig Mathias said.
Brocade-Motorola firms up competitive roles
Ultimately, the OEM deal strengthens Brocade's overall networking portfolio, and therefore its competitive position against Cisco. Brocade's previous OEM relationship with Meru covered only 802.11a/b/g technology. With the Motorola deal, Brocade finally brings 802.11n to market.
"It's interesting to see Brocade re-emphasizing wireless since the Foundry acquisition. We've always thought of Brocade as a SAN company … now they're looking at meeting the networking needs of good-sized organizations."
The deal also brings Motorola into the wired networking mix since the company will ultimately begin selling unified wireless and wired equipment, said Manju Mahishi, Motorola's enterprise mobility solutions senior director of product strategy wireless network solutions.
Both Motorola and Brocade have "mutually exclusive customer bases," so the partnership not only gives them each new technology, but should also be well received by users, Mathias said.
"This is bidirectional. It is a real partnership. They each brought something to the table, and they each take something away," Mathias said.