Wireless switch startup introduces - boredom

Yet another start-up in wireless LAN switches this week introduces what executives say is the most boring wireless switch on the market.

This unique approach by Legra Systems Inc. was distilled during an interview with a network executive who interrupted a presentation by Paul DeBeasi, Legra's vice president of product management and marketing. "He said, 'Look. All this is fine, well and good. But the bottom line is, I want these systems to be boring. Just like my wired network,'" DeBeasi recalls.

That's what Legra, in Burlington, Mass., plans to do with its switch, radio access points, and network management application. The company's products will ship in late summer. Pricing has not been finalized. DeBeasi would only say that based on prices announced by numerous rivals, Legra's pricetags will be "highly competitive."

Like those rivals, Legra's products are a stripped down 802.11 radio, sometimes called a thin or dumb access point, and a box that plugs somewhere into the existing enterprise net. The box typically handles Layer 2 and Layer 3 switching features. That means it can act as a switch to packets based on IP address, give priority to certain classes of traffic, and so on.

Legra's switch includes its own extensible "wireless operating system," which is a set of software features built atop an embedded Linux kernel. This software lets the switches communicate with each other to do load balancing, to hand off mobile users from one access point or switch to another, and to work with upstream routers.

The switch is a rackmounted box with four processors: one each for the Legra operating system, for handling Layer 2 and 3 functions, for identifying and assigning cryptographic keys for each packet entering and leaving the box, and for doing the encrypt/decrypt work.

The Linux kernel and the Legra operating system let the switch run Linux applications. The design lets Legra and third-party application vendors use a set of open APIs to load applications on the switch. The processing architeture gives the box the horesepower to run them. Legra has been talking with software vendors such as AirMagnet and Newbury Networks, which write applications for administering wireless LANs, says Albert Lew, Legra's director of product management.

The access points, dubbed Legra radios, can be plugged into an existing wired LAN, connecting to Layer 2 switches in wiring closets (or plugged directly into the Legra Switch). But the switch itself can be installed anywhere, such as the data center. Legra engineers wrote a tunneling protocol that carries the wireless packets over the existing IP net to the nearest Legra switch for processing.

One or two other switch start-ups are taking a similar approach using the GRE protocol. Lew claims Legra's protocol is "considerably more efficient in terms of performance" and exposes the packets to examination by the switch. "Our switch can examine packet traffic, and know which packets are important," Lew says. "GRE can't do this."

The Legra radio will support 802.11a, 11b, and 11g radios.

All security, including all encryption and decryption, is supported on the switch itself. Legra can use almost any of the encryption schemes available, including Triple-DES, AES, and IPSes for VPN connections. The switch also works with existing authentication directories, such as NT Domains, Microsoft Active Directory, and RADIUS.

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