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SDN, WiFi & The Microsoft Lync Connection

In the interest of self-preservation, forward-looking wireless network admins are keeping an eye out for developments with software-defined networking. It appears that SDN recently found a legitimate toehold in the WiFi world, and the milestone is significant.

Despite the promise of SDN eventually making networking far simpler than what we're all used to, the road to SDN is complicated by multiple approaches, no real defined and enforced standards, and even different notions of what SDN is. Nonetheless, SDN is penetrating the WiFi world as many vendors seize on a common starting point: the Microsoft Lync SDN API.

I first covered Meru Networks' foray into SDN via the Lync API early last month, but I had no way of knowing then how fast other vendors would jump in. I attended the recent Wireless Field Day 7 and got an earful of what other vendors are doing with their own SDN incarnations. Not surprisingly, the Lync API was front and center in many of the presentations.

Aruba Networks, I learned, has moved to the 100% wireless office model. Patch cables are mostly a thing of the past at Aruba, and Microsoft Lync is now the corporate voice platform. This includes WiFi phones and the Lync app on mobile devices, with an Aruba WLAN controller and NMS code written to leverage the Lync API for dynamic optimization and reporting on call quality for Lync users. Though there is no SDN controller in play, Aruba is playing up the SDN-ness of the application.

I also visited with Extreme Networks and Avaya at Wireless Field Day. Extreme's SDN strategy is more like Meru's in that it tries to adhere to the mainstream SDN mantra of network automation and collaboration with the likes of OpenDaylight and the Open Networking Foundation. At the same time, Extreme's working example of SDN in action is designed for Microsoft Lync.

Avaya has its own voice portfolio and a large SDN story of its own, but it does integrate to a certain degree with Lync for presence and IM through the Avaya Client Applications plug-in.

Though HP was not at Wireless Field Day, it has a similar SDN/WiFi/Lync story. Cisco was at the event but didn't talk about SDN in the WiFi space or Lync. Cisco's UC platform does have some degree of Lync integration, but it's also a direct competitor.

It's worth noting that Cisco and Avaya differ a bit from the competition in that each is pushing heavily to shape SDN standards, whereas the rest of the WiFi field seems to be willing to see what shakes out as SDN gets more formalized.

Having so many major wireless vendors seize on the Lync API for their first legitimate, marketable example of real-world SDN is significant. Lync is booming, and it's good to see the WLAN industry react progressively with an eye toward SDN-based optimization.

I hope it also means that the next big example of API-enabled SDN functionality and WiFi will be a widely supported industry model as everyone gets used to the new ways of doing networking. It's better for all to move forward together, at least for a while, in my mind.

At Interop New York, Lee will lead "The Yin and Yang of Cloud-Managed WiFi," which will look at real-world cloud WiFi deployments and review tradeoffs with the new model. Register now for Interop.