Lee H. Badman

Network Computing Blogger


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Aerohive does an End-Run Around Apple's Bonjour Protocol Issues

There has been a fair amount of recent media attention dealing with the limitations of Apple's Bonjour protocol in the enterprise WLAN setting. Aerohive Networks has an answer to the Bonjour problem, at a cost you can love.

The BYOD story certainly features Apple as a main character, as growing pools of iDevices saturate the business network setting. In many ways, Apple's offerings are no different from any other mobile platform when it comes to fitting into the enterprise--that is, until iDevice owners demand to do some of the same things at work that they can at home, in an all-Apple home environment. This is where most network admins rub their brows and mutter a bit under their breaths.

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Though Apple's cache has skyrocketed since the advent of all things i, the device giant still refuses to freshen up the Bonjour protocol that's both powerfully enabling yet, frustratingly, a terrible fit away from the small office/home office environment. Where Bonjour is used, there's a dependence on connected devices, like Apple TV and iPhone, being on the same subnet as the protocol relies on nonroutable, multicast DNS. MDNS is not exactly big-network friendly, and most admins refuse to redesign networks around something they feel Apple should fix.

While Apple customers and those who support them in business settings receive the silent treatment from the Cupertino mothership on the topic of improving Bonjour, the WLAN industry knows something has to give. Since customers are the ones suffering from Apple's inaction, wireless vendors are stepping up. While big guns like Cisco and Aruba work on baking Bonjour workarounds into their controller-based architectures, small-fry Aerohive Networks is taking a bold step that customers of any WLAN vendor can leverage--and it's an interesting strategy, for sure.

Aerohive has already shown that it can make a "Bonjour Gateway" that stitches the important pieces of network VLANs together in nontraditional ways under the hood of a specialized Aerohive access point. Now, with development going on by the competition for more scalable ways of meeting the Bonjour demand, Aerohive is offering anyone who wants it a WLAN vendor-agnostic, large-scale Bonjour Gateway at no cost. As in: It costs nothing but the lightweight VM resources that it runs on.

With a free software download and HiveManagerOnline account setup (also free), network administrators can start managing, filtering, controlling and, most importantly, connecting iDevices to other Apple gadgets on a zero-cost platform that scales to hundreds of supported devices. Need even more Bonjour Gateway functionality? Just build another one with the free software. Online support is via email, and will be provided as "best effort" by Aerohive.

Why is Aerohive rushing to beat the bigger players to market with a scalable Bonjour fix for even its competitors' WLAN environments? The easy answer is that it wants the wireless world to get to know the small wireless company. As more WLAN environments grow and modernize, Aerohive would love to capture some wireless business along the way, should takers on the free Bonjour Gateway offering also look into its controllerless architecture.

As a Cisco customer, what I like about Aerohive's strategy is that a stand-alone scalable Bonjour fix means one less thing I need to do on controllers that are already extremely complex to operate. Asking my Cisco NCS system and controllers to also do Bonjour at each controller would introduce networking complexity and add more debug to a framework that, in my opinion, already stumps Cisco TAC fairly frequently. I'm A-OK spending nothing and keeping administration for the Bonjour protocol under a different pane of glass in this case.

Only time will tell if Aerohive's offering wins the company any customers, or if it's supplanted in the future by an alternative Bonjour fix by Apple (which likely wouldn't be free). For the time being, Aerohive's Bonjour Gateway is the best bet, and value, in town for dealing with complicated Bonjour environments.


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