Alcatel adds switches to link wired, wireless LANs

Alcatel this week will announce a second generation of wireless LAN switches, adding functionality that further extends the security and management capabilities of wired networks to WLANs.

Alcatel is adding seven switches made by Aruba Wireless Networks to its OmniAccess WLAN switch family, which debuted in March 2004 with a series of devices also developed by Aruba.

The new switches will give IT administrators the ability to integrate LAN-based management tools from other vendors and Alcatel's own OmniVista software with Wi-Fi networks, said Brian Witt, director of product marketing at Paris-based Alcatel, which has its U.S. headquarters.

New software from Alcatel will extend LAN security functions, such as attack containment capabilities, to Wi-Fi networks, Witt added. Other security features include centralized encryption for 802.11i firewalls, with the switches assigning access rights to end users and then applying those privileges no matter where a user connects to a network.

Gordon College, plans to install one of the new switches this summer as an upgrade to its existing OmniAccess device, said Russ Leathe, director of networking and computer services at the 1,500-student college.

Leathe said he welcomes further integration of management and security functions for the school's wired networks and Wi-Fi LANs. "We cannot afford to maintain multiple vendors' solutions and expect them to integrate," he said, noting that at colleges especially, IT staffers are few in number and have to wear many hats.

Integrating management of wired and wireless LANs has become a priority for many network managers, noted John Miles, vice president of IT operations Lowe's, which operates about 1,100 home improvement retail stores.

"Passing (Wi-Fi) security to hardened environments is definitely needed," said Miles, who hasn't evaluated Alcatel's product offering.

Smaller vendors began offering integrated networking products three years ago, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. But the top vendors have started catching on more recently, he added. For example, Cisco Systems jumped on the bandwagon through its acquisition of Airespace earlier this year. And Nortel Networks last year agreed to resell WLAN switching technology from Trapeze Networks.

But Richard Webb, an analyst at Infonetics Research in Boston, said the process of integrating wired and wireless network management is still in its early stages.

"The whole point is to have converged networks and perform the same set of criteria on a wired or wireless device," Webb said. "It's creating simplicity so the poor network manager isn't having to juggle two networks."

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