Aerohive turns controller-based WLANs inside out

Cooperative AP architecture creates simpler, cheaper wireless LAN, company says

Aerohive Networks wants you to step forward into the future of wireless LANS ... by stepping backward.

The venture-funded start-up this week launched its HiveAP product line, which turns the dominant wireless-controller architecture of most enterprise WLANs inside out.

Controllers, sometimes called wireless LAN switches, emerged only five years ago as a way to centralize wireless LAN security, radio frequency management, administration, security and roaming, and translating being 802.11 wireless and 802.3 Ethernet nets, for collections of stripped-down, or "thin", access points. Each access point tunnels back to the controller over the wired net, sending to it all data and control packets. Before the advent of the controller, many of these functions either didn't exist in early WLANs or were handled by autonomous, or "fat" access points.

Aerohive executives say their approach preserves the new functions created by the controller, but distributes them through a meshed network of intelligent access points, each with its own IP address. These devices cooperatively work together, accomplishing the tasks previously done by a separate controller. By eliminating the controller, Aerohive creates a WLAN that is dramatically cheaper to buy and install, especially for large, multisite branch offices or retail-store deployments.

The simpler architecture of an Aerohive WLAN also scales more easily, load-balances traffic automatically across access points and as a consequence is more reliable in performance than controller-based rivals, according to executives.

The vendor also offers a network-management system: a PC-based appliance called HiveManager, and a Java application that runs on an administrator's PC. The application links an administrator with the HiveManager features, for tasks such as setting and updating user and group security and mobility policies, monitoring network performance and behavior, and tracking use trends. HiveManager has a list price of $US4,995 and is shipping now.

Areohive was founded in early 2006; it now has $US6 million in venture backing. Of the 50 employees, 30 are engineers based in China. The company and its products will be on display at Interop Las Vegas later this month, at Booth No. 1775.

But isn't the HiveAP simply a throwback to the autonomous access point the industry has rejected?

"The old [autonomous] access points didn't have mobility, there was no fast roaming, no centralized management, and no coordinated security," says David Flynn, Aerohive's CEO. "You couldn't use the old access points to detect [wireless] rogues. And you had to manually adjust channels assignments, signal strength and so on. We've taken these controller functions and put them into the access points."

The HiveAP 20 unveiled this week has two radios: one 802.11a, one 802.11g (which can support older 11b clients at reduced data rates). The list price is $US995, and it's now shipping. HiveAPs can wirelessly communicate with each other via a mesh protocol, and when needed, they become portals that are wired into any existing Ethernet switch port to connect with the wired LAN.

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