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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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The 'New' Enterprise WLAN Vendor

AirTight Networks is grabbing attention as a new player in the WLAN market but it's no wireless newbie.

As the wireless networking space becomes more competitive and complex, it’s not exactly easy for newcomers to enter the market. AirTight Networks is hoping to make a go of it, as the new kid on the block that was always there. Confused? Read on.

If you follow wireless news, you may have noticed that AirTight is getting a lot of press lately. Though the company may seem new, it's actually been in the wireless game for a number of years. Started in 2003, AirTight Networks was a wireless security company before wireless systems provided their own wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS) capabilities. As a security overlay, AirTight started its life complementing wireless systems from companies like Cisco and Enterasys, which provided wireless client access but didn’t have much in the way of their own WIPS capabilities. Now, AirTight is looking to compete with the very types of systems it used to protect, on their own turf.

The marketing folks at AirTight have to be pleased of late as the wireless client-access rookie is grabbing headlines on a number of fronts. In May, AirTight won a fairly high-profile patent battle with competitor Aerohive. The company also recently scored $10 million in venture capital, and announced it will present at next month's Wireless Field Day 5, which is sure to spawn more coverage. (I am a delegate to Wireless Field Day and will get to hear the AirTight story first hand at the event.) Okay, so AirTight is on a good PR roll, but what’s its technical story?

AirTight joins the likes of Aerohive and Meraki (acquired by Cisco last year) in proving that controllers don’t necessarily make the WLAN. A slew of features are baked into the AirTight product, ranging from the security stuff the company is known for to flexible guest wireless and BYOD onboarding with definable usage policies -- without the licensing complexity that other vendors try to get away with. Also worth noting: The latest entrant to the WLAN access market is cloud managed.

[Cisco recently launched a new managed service offering built on Meraki. Read the details in "Cisco announces Meraki Cloud-Managed Network."]

In addition to the controllerless strategy, AirTight also follows another growing industry trend by providing customers with the ability to control what band their AP’s radios operate in. Where the Cisco 3600 provides distinct 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz radios, AirTight’s radio functionality can be software-defined for both band and function (access, security sensor, etc.). It’s nice to have that flexibility, as it opens a range of possibilities for system design and use. Also following the competition, AirTight has a location/analytics capability, but this is one area that I have found varies greatly across vendors.

Though I have yet to play with any AirTight gear, I like that the company’s website provides a number of demos, educational resources, and free tools. AirTight emphasis is on security without sacrificing performance or requiring heavy admin burden. How that translates to real life remains to be seen, as I have yet to talk with any AirTight customers.

AirTight does not have a switching product line, and so like Ruckus Wireless, won’t make it into Gartner’s Magic Quadrant ratings now that the market research firm has lumped LAN and WLAN together under the lazy approach of only considering “unified” systems. But that disservice is another column for another time.

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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