When we first embarked on our latest in-depth analysis, we worked with enterprise wireless network managers, vendors, analysts and test-tool makers Azimuth and VeriWave to develop a test plan that covered the full range of issues IT confronts, including product architecture, security, deployment, management, performance and cost. We asked for a significant commitment from vendors in both equipment and support staff. Of the 17 invited to participate, only two--Cisco and Bluesocket--took us up on our offer. Although excuses ran the gamut from a lack of internal resources to concerns that our test plan was too complex, not to mention a little too risky in light of the test platforms' relative immaturity, we concluded that most enterprise WLAN vendors don't want to participate in in-depth product reviews unless they can write the test plan.
Cisco's decision to buck that trend is notable because it has the most to lose from a critical review. After all, it dominates the WLAN market with more than 50 percent share, according to both Synergy Research and Gartner. That got us thinking that maybe the real theme of this article should be, Can anyone beat Cisco? It's a fair question, and one that's on many IT pros' minds. Yes, there are enough ABC ("anybody but Cisco") shops out there to keep at least a few competitors in business, but Cisco's decision to send us a crate full of gear to test shows the company is willing to go head-to-head with any rival, not on the basis of its name, but on its product's merit. Cisco engineers spent several days in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®, helping us gain a better understanding of its broad and increasingly complex array of WLAN offerings. After they left, we spent about four weeks pressing as many buttons as we could and running a battery of tests (see our results). We also appreciate Bluesocket agreeing to participate; we're in the process of testing its gear.
We circled back with vendors that declined to participate and asked them--as well as Bluesocket--to complete an RFI that posed a dozen questions of interest to IT pros (see the list of questions) and spend a day with us demonstrating their offerings. Aruba Networks, Bluesocket, Colubris Networks, Extreme Networks, Extricom, Meru Networks, Proxim Wireless, Siemens AG, Symbol Technologies, 3Com and Xirrus returned RFIs describing their overall architectural approaches to enterprise WLANs and discussing such ideas as whether enterprises should focus on a single vendor for their wired and wireless networks; use of WPA2, authentication, authorization, monitoring, mobility and endpoint security; guest access; performance and scalability; and cost. Bluesocket, Extricom, Extreme, Meru and Xirrus paid visits to the lab. Our summarized analysis of Bluesocket's response is at left. The others can be found here, and you can read the full vendor responses here. Amazingly, some notable players, including Enterasys Networks, Foundry Networks, Nortel Networks and Trapeze Networks, didn't take the time to respond.