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April 17, 2005

Colubris readies wired and wireless LAN switch for ’06

Wireless networking vendor Colubris Networks will today unveil a multiservice WLAN controller to run multiple network services on a single device, claiming "a tenfold increase in scalability compared to current WLAN switches, at a considerably lower price," according to CTO Pierre Trudeau.

By CBR Staff Writer

The reference here is to switches from the likes of Aruba, Trapeze and Airespace (now Cisco), with the Colubris product coming in at a lower price because ours has no LAN switch network processor, because a company’s edge switch already has one of those for Layer 2, and probably does it a lot better anyway, Trudeau went on.

The Multiservice Controller, for which general availability is scheduled for the June/July timeframe, is also the first of two products underpinning the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company’s vision of next-generation networking, in which wired and wireless services will be handled on the same infrastructure.

The second, a Unified Edge Switch for both types of networking, is earmarked for launch in the second half of 2006, the reason for the long time lag being that Colubris must wait until silicon developers such as Broadcom and Marvell to come up with the switch-on-a-chip architectures at prices ($130-$150, according to current expectations) to make them accessible.

The swathe of announcements from Colubris (the Multiservice Controller, the Unified Edge Switch and the overall Unified Services Network architecture they underpin) might almost be billed as The Revenge of the Fat AP. Using Gartner’s generational taxonomy, the first for WLAN was pre-standard, proprietary technologies. The second, when the 802.11 standard had come into existence (circa 2000), was when companies such as Colubris entered the arena with standalone access points (APs) to be deployed essentially as extensions of the wired LAN.

They prospered, to the point where multiple APs began to represent a management headache, at which point the third generation of WLAN came into being, characterized by WLAN switches managing thin APs on separate overlay networks (essentially, Layer 3 tunnels). This gave the new entrants with their switches boasting rights in terms of manageability and left the purveyors of fat APs looking like they were yesterday’s news.

Colubris opted not to go over to the switching architecture, however, opting instead to develop its controllers and management software but retaining its local MAC technology and arguing, in Trudeau’s words, that whether the AP is fat or thin is an irrelevancy. The WLAN switch guys propose architectures in which the data must always go through their equipment in an overlay network, whereas we leverage the existing network and its Layer-2 and -3 architecture, using the same AV and IDS/IPS infrastructure, for instance. We opted for centralized management, but didn’t go the switch route, he went on.

The company positions the Multiservice Controller as the fourth generation, characterized by scalability and services breadth, in that it can support different services running concurrently on a single device. An example of this is the ruggedized Colubris controllers running in airplanes in the Connected by Boeing WiFi-in-the-sky service, where passengers can be accessing the internet while cabin crew are processing credit card transactions and the flight crew can be transmitting data on the state of onboard equipment.

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The fifth generation would thus be full unification of wired and wireless on a single infrastructure, but of course managed this time rather than unmanaged as in the second generation. As for pricing, while WLAN switches generally cost $15,000-$20,000, Colubris expects the Multiservice Controller to retail for single-digit thousands, according to a spokesperson for the company.

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