HP to enter crowded field with WLAN gear

Hewlett-Packard Co. this week will announce products for boosting wireless LAN security and management while reducing the cost and complexity of rolling out access points, according to industry sources.

In doing so, HP will become the latest of several companies - both established vendors and newcomers - to introduce what are becoming known as WLAN switches.

According to sources briefed by HP, the company will launch its ProCurve 720 Access Controller, a centralized switch for connecting wireless access points. HP also will announce the ProCurve 740 Access Control Server, which will act as a management and configuration node for the ProCurve wireless infrastructure.

The company says it will make network-related announcements but declined to give specifics.

The 720 will connect to industry-standard 802.11b access points, such as HP's previously announced ProCurve 520wl product, and provide services such as end-user verification via the IEEE 802.1X protocol, as well as encryption and quality of service (QoS) for WLAN traffic. The box will have eight 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet ports for connecting access points. Sources say the 720 also can be configured to control wireless access points connected to regular LAN points and not directly to the box.

The 720 will compete with products from WLAN switch start-ups such Aruba Wireless Networks Inc. and Trapeze Networks Inc. and established companies such as Extreme Networks Inc. and Proxim Inc.

The ProCurve 740 Access Control Server is a complementary appliance that will act as an authentication and management platform. Software on the server will track which clients are authorized to be attached to wireless access points. The software will let network administrators set polices for access, such as limiting what times certain access points can be active and what kinds of activities clients can do on the network - such as Web surfing or accessing network resources. Policies set on the 740 will be synchronized with the 720, which will enforce them.

Pricing is not known, but observers say HP likely will be aggressive based on its other switching products.

The move toward putting WLAN intelligence in enterprise wiring closets could be useful for companies installing large 802.11 networks, analysts say.

"The basic notion with this kind of architecture is you can centrally manage your wireless LAN the same way you would manage your wired LAN," says Abner Germanow, an analyst with IDC.

In a large WLAN, where access points are not centrally connected by wireless switches, network administrators make configuration or policy changes individually on dozens of access points. Wireless switches let policies be set centrally and then applied to all clients coming into the network from wireless access points.

"This seems to be the course the industry is taking," says Joshua Johnson, an analyst with Synergy Research Group Inc. He says he expects to see more wired and wireless Ethernet offerings soon.

The WLAN announcements will be the latest in a flurry of activity on the enterprise network and systems front by HP.

This week, HP clarified its approach to utility computing. In January, the company launched its Adaptive Edge architecture, which promotes putting more network intelligence, such as 802.1X authentication as well as Layer 2 and Layer 3 QoS and security services, in enterprise wiring closets instead of the network core. The Adaptive Edge debut also was HP's launch in the WLAN market - barring its Wi-Fi-enabled notebooks - as it introduced its ProCurve 520wl access points.

HP officials said at the recent NetWorld+Interop show that their goal is for the company to become the No. 2 player in enterprise networking behind Cisco Systems Inc. by early next year. The company is ranked third or fourth, according to different research firms.

HP's wiring closet switches sell for about half of Cisco's and Nortel Networks Corp.'s prices and cost slightly less than what 3Com Corp. charges. HP increased its LAN switch port shipments by 38 percent and 52 percent in 2001 and 2002, according to Synergy, although the company still owns just 4.6 percent of the Layer 2 fixed-port switch market.

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