Wireless Infrastructure

04:16 PM
Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Meru Plays Catch-Up on WLAN Capabilities

Meru Networks has rolled out new WLAN capabilities for unified access, device onboarding and more, but its "me too" efforts do little to distinguish it in a competitive market.

Meru Networks used to be considered the number-three WLAN vendor in the U.S. behind Cisco Systems and Aruba. However, in the past few years Meru has been pushed to the margins. The company has seen its stock drop, and in March last year it brought on a new CEO.

I've spoken with analysts who have contemplated whether Meru's star had burned itself out, but the company is taking steps to re-position itself as a viable competitor. To that end, Meru recently unveiled a new architecture, called MobileFlex, that adds new capabilities and products to the wireless vendor's offerings. The move brings Meru's capabilities up to par with the competitive landscape.

First is context awareness, in which different users, devices, applications, or combinations of the three are handled uniquely on the network according to policy. Meru calls its offering CALS, for Context-aware Application Layers. In the BYOD world in which we now operate, such a capability is table-stakes for a vendor that wants to be competitive in the enterprise.

Meru also joins the chorus of WLAN vendors who are doing Apple's work for them via Service Connect, Meru's solution for the limitations of Apple's Bonjour protocol. In the enterprise WLAN setting, Service Connect provides "Bonjour gateway" functionality across the wireless environment.

For automated guest access and device onboarding, Meru's MobileFlex brings the new IDM 13.2 solution that maps somewhat to Cisco's Integrated Services Engine (ISE) or Aruba's Clear Pass. IDM 13.2 includes 802.1x authentication, device configuration tools for the BYOD crowd, and customizable wireless guest services. It also serves as an integrated RADIUS server for the MobileFlex framework.

Under the topic of unified network management, Meru's E(z) RF has been upgraded to 4.0, and brings new spectrum analysis capabilities to access points that simultaneously support clients (putting Meru on par with market leaders). Meru has also entered into a partnership with SolarWinds that allows for single-pane-of-glass oversight of wired and wireless networks.

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On the new product front, Meru introduces the MC1550 entry-level controller, which goes to 50 APs and is 802.11ac-ready. Meru is borrowing a page from Xirrus' strategy of providing an "802.11ac investment-protection plan," wherein if customers buy current access points, future 11ac models can be upgraded at a discount. Meru has also introduced a new, single-radio 11n AP1014. Like Ruckus' recent Zoneflex 7055, the new Meru AP1014 allows for wired Ethernet pass-through at new AP locations--a feature I really appreciate.

Meru's key differentiator in the market is its virtual cell single-channel architecture, in which a single channel is shared by multiple APs, with a secret RF sauce that makes the entire WLAN operate on a single channel. Meru's approach defies conventional wireless wisdom wherein network designers meticulously try to lay out non-interfering channel plans.

However, an unconventional architecture isn't enough. Meru has rolled out an impressive collection of updated wireless features to cover everything from BYOD to IPv6, but all this effort merely brings them up to the same level as its competitors. More effort is required to get the company ahead of the game.

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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