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Market Analysis: Enterprise Wireless LANs: Page 8 of 13

Cisco CCX: Added Value or Standards End Run?

Cisco is walking a fine line with its Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) program. The dearth of critical standards-based functionality in areas like mobility and RF management has forced the company to venture into the world of proprietary protocols to meet customer needs. CCX encourages WLAN-client vendors and silicon providers to implement Cisco-specific enhancements and certify those products for compatibility. Although Cisco has encountered challenges along the way, especially in getting vendors to update drivers and utilities for older hardware, most new enterprise-class client hardware includes full support for CCX.

It's ironic that the management team from Airespace used to complain to us that, though Cisco was open in providing CCX implementation details to client vendors, Cisco hardware was required if you wanted to leverage those features. When Cisco relabeled and added the old Airespace controllers and APs to its Unified Network, there was no support for CCX. Version 4.0 of Cisco's WLAN controller software now includes support for a range of CCX functions, including roaming, radio resource management, Cisco discovery protocol and enhanced security.

Eventually, we expect to see standards-based solutions to all the feature voids CCX is designed to address. Cisco's public statements vehemently assert that the company will maintain and promote proprietary capabilities only as long as necessary and that it will be aggressive not only in contributing its intellectual property to standards bodies but also in supporting standards as they emerge. Seasoned IT pros can be forgiven some skepticism--Cisco's track record in this regard is checkered. Yes, the company almost always adds support for standards, but the implementation of those standards sometimes provides customers with subtle encouragement to stick with proprietary features.

We hope this isn't the path Cisco takes with CCX, and in the end, it's up to network managers to drive Cisco's direction. If you express satisfaction with proprietary capabilities, there will be little motivation to standardize. Sometimes, solving problems in your own organization takes precedence over doing what's best for the industry as a whole. But at the least, you should let Cisco know that you believe in open industry standards and will make future purchasing decisions with that ideal in mind.