There’s just something fun about watching a small dog chase a bigger dog. The little guy has to work harder, innovate and use creativity to not let the big one just run away from him. At the same time, the diminutive pup tends to be more nimble, and can usually make steering changes faster than the big dog. In many ways, the WLAN market is the same way, and it’s fascinating to watch the smaller players try to claw market share away from those at the top of the heap. That dance continues as Aerohive releases its latest salvo in its running bid to show that you don’t need to have controllers in the hardware equation to provide feature-rich wireless.
If you haven’t seen Gartner’s March 2011 Magic Quadrant for Wireless LAN Infrastructure, it’s worth perusing. Regardless of how much stock you put into Gartner’s narrative, it is always interesting to see the market summarized into the famous quadrant diagram. I tend to gravitate to the “visionaries” corner, where a half-dozen smaller, interesting companies nip at the heels of the “leaders” above them. This year’s leaders are Cisco, Aruba Networks and Motorola, all of which happen to be controller-based (to varying degrees) with their WLAN offerings. Many of the smaller, "visionary" players that want to be leaders when they grow up make the dissing of the controller model an integral part of their sales pitch. Aerohive is right there in the thick of the “we gotta work harder to earn your business” set, and is perhaps the most vocal beater of the "lose the controller without giving up WLAN features" drum.
As Aerohive ramps up its new cloud-based HiveOS and HiveManager 4.0 versions, the company continues to try to reach feature parity with WLAN market leaders and deliver functional innovation to differentiate themselves from the pack. And like many competitors at this tier, Aerohive takes pleasure in reminding the market that pretty much every feature it offers comes license-free … they're just in there.
Wireless customers expect advanced capabilities like spectrum analysis in a business-quality system. What used to be a sexy, expensive add-on has become commonplace, and Aerohive’s 4.0 code now delivers SA--with a bonus. Along with scanning for and identifying interfering devices and signals, HTML5-based spectrographs bring interference views to iPads and iPhones so administrators can see what’s afoot even when mobile.
In a clever bid to reconcile security with ease of use as the sheer number of device types likely to hit the WLAN climbs, 4.0 introduces a new Private PSK option. Users self-register for their own individual pre-share key that gets used for WPA2 encryption, which helps negate anyone using open wireless networks for any reason. Though I see the value to the notion, I do think Aerohive will need to tighten up the mechanism whereby strangers to the WLAN verify who they are before they are allowed to get a private pre-share.
Remember, Aerohive and its Gartner peers look to deliver all that the market leaders promise while also proving their ability to deliver fresh, unique options, often aimed at a specific vertical. To this point, HiveOS/HiveManager 4.0 steps up the quality of Aerohive's planning tool to include multilevel and multiperimeter drawings, and adds mesh capabilities to its lower-end single-radio APs. Under the heading of “look what we can do,” 4.0 brings interesting integration with Library Information Systems (overdue library books = no WiFi for you, for example) and the ability for reseller partners to be be their own slice of the Aerohive world. This allows customers to deal with the reseller when desired instead of Aerohive directly. It’s all about flexibility.
Though Aerohive certainly poses no credible threat to the likes of Cisco at this point when it comes to market share, there is no denying that the little dog’s continued innovation makes those of us walking our big dogs stop and appreciate all that is possible--without controllers.