WLAN Management Startup Aims High

Many WLAN administrators long for relief from native, legacy wireless networking management tools. Nira Wireless offers a new cloud-based system, but it isn't mature enough yet to displace Cisco and Aruba tools.

December 3, 2014

3 Min Read
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There isn't much interoperability across different contemporary wireless networking product sets. Each vendor's gear tends to be a proprietary microcosm unto itself. This reality is reflected in the typical need to purchase a network management system (NMS) from the same vendor that supplies your WLAN hardware. One exception is Aruba's Airwave, which can manage specific non-Aruba components; this capability dates back to when Airwave was a standalone company before its acquisition by Aruba.

But beyond Airwave, many WLAN admins have longed for NMS options beyond what they are essentially stuck with from their vendors. It's too early to tell if a new company called Nira Wireless will be a compelling third-party alternative for WLAN monitoring and management, but the company's early story is extremely interesting.

Nira is a cloud-based system that can monitor Cisco, Aruba, and Motorola (now Zebra Technologies) WLAN environments. Currently, a local agent serves as intermediary between the cloud server and on-site APs. Nira is planning to provide controller support in the future. Other capabilities on its roadmap include basic configuration and support for more vendors.

Out of the gate, Nira promises to do RF monitoring, analytics, notifications, and actions better than the vendors themselves can do, in a framework that doesn't rely on local hardware. Nira does have a useful interface that has some nice panache. It's also got the reliability of Google's cloud behind it. However, it's also a bit puzzling when I consider it as a practicing WLAN administrator.

It's pretty obvious that Nira could be helpful in small environments, including distributed multi-site systems, that otherwise can't justify the price of a central NMS. With fast setup and really nice views into what is and has been happening down to the access point level, Nira could be an easy fit in the absence of a NMS or other event-driven alerting system.

At the same time, Nira is taking its first shots at Cisco and Aruba customers, which is a bit of a head scratcher if you already have either Cisco Prime Infrastructure or Aruba Airwave NMS platforms.

Nira prides itself on being able to do the reporting and alerting functions better than the incumbent NMS systems. In all honesty, I can see where these claims are likely true in some cases after drilling into the available demos and talking with company executives. At the same time, network administrators already frequently suffer UI exhaustion, and the idea of turning to a third-party product that does some things better than the expensive NMS you already own isn't going to be an easy sell for Nira.

Other add-ons like the AirTight Wireless Intrusion Prevention System and 7signal service assurance overlays see similar challenges when the incumbent NMS is "good enough" but far from best-of-breed at specialized functions.

As interesting as Nira is to look at, with its innovative ways of showing the day-to-day stuff that concern WLAN admins like me, it doesn't yet have the depth of Prime Infrastructure to be a total replacement. Short of that, I can't see where it would really fit in my current large Cisco environment, despite my running displeasure with many aspects of Prime Infrastructure.

Nira won't exactly rock the WLAN NMS world in its early form. But it will be interesting for small environments and even growing WLANs that have yet to make big-dollar NMS investments. The cloud-based model is a breath of fresh air once you've been a slave to clunky, maintenance-heavy on-site wireless management systems, so if Nira can stay viable long enough to evolve into a well-rounded NMS option, it might prove to be a winner.

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