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Getting Locked in with Single-Vendor WLANs

This modular approach to wireless networking is important for some
organizations. For example, in the retail market--one of the most
popular wireless vertical markets--physical locations are often
relatively small and widely distributed. In many cases, bandwidth and
roaming requirements are modest and wireless networks are often designed
with coverage rather than capacity in mind. Minimizing the number of APs
helps reduce deployment, management and upgrade costs. It also allows
flexibility across generations of technology from specific vendors as
well as products from different vendors.


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If you talk to wireless network managers at universities, you also see
interest in this type of product and other modular wireless solutions.
While some universities have embraced wireless switches, most have stuck
to more traditional designs using smart APs from a variety of vendors
and some kind of centralized management platform--either Wavelink,
Airwave or an internally developed system. When asked about the newer
Wi-Fi switching platforms, a common response is "no thanks, I'm not
interested in getting locked into a single vendor."

Given Cisco's dominant position as a supplier of wireless gear to higher
education, there's some irony to this statement. But even at Cisco's
biggest higher-education accounts, there's often a strategy of playing
the field a little, through open RFPs and the constant threat that they
COULD jump ship to a competitor if Cisco doesn't take care of them.
While Cisco offers its own functional and affordable management
platform, the WLSE (Wireless LAN Solution Engine), many sites opt to go
with a third-party management system.

For some applications in some environments, more integrated wireless
solutions offer significant value. Their management interfaces are often
superior, as are their advanced feature sets, which often include RF
management, multi-layer security services, low-latency roaming and
traffic prioritization. These features are high on the wish list of
network managers, but not necessarily at the top of the must-have list.
When it means getting locked in to a single-vendor solution, some
managers are understandably hesitant.