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WLANs Evolve With vWLAN 2.1

The evolution of the WLAN industry has been a curious, somewhat flip-floppy study in design philosophy. Stand-alone, intelligent access points got the party started more than a decade ago, and somewhere along the line lost favor to controller-based super systems. Now the big, expensive controller has become a target for frequent criticism as a growing number of vendors present innovative alternatives to funneling all WLAN traffic back to a central processing point. Bluesocket is among the latest to de-emphasize the importance of the controller, while also adding management of wired users with its recently introduced vWLAN 2.1 platform.

Now part of ADTRAN, Bluesocket is one of those interesting wireless companies currently listed by Gartner in the "visionary" section of the Magic Quadrant. I love following the vendors in this space, where all manner of innovative approaches are used to try to drive TCO down while meeting or exceeding feature sets offered by the market leaders. I am a Bluesocket customer in that I use BSC controllers for guest access duty on my own Cisco-based wireless network at Syracuse University and as the wireless core in networks I support in Haiti. While I don't use Bluesocket APs in my current deployments, I have laid hands on them numerous times in test. Right now I am kicking the tires on two Bluesocket 1800 smart access points while I get my feet wet on vWLAN 2.1 and get familiarized with the premise of Bluesocket’s distributed access control for both the wired and wireless sides of the network.

As I follow developments from the likes of Meraki (I run a Meraki network in London) and Aerohive (watch for developments from its acquisition of Pareto Networks), I do like the simplicity and capability that comes with "single pane of glass" administration of both wired and wireless client environments. With vWLAN 2.1, Bluesocket joins a field that offers turn-key wired security and client control alongside with scalable wireless networking, and does it without requiring new network hardware.

Which brings us to the "how it's done" part of the story. Customers familiar with Bluesocket's UI should ease into learning vWLAN 2.1, as the new capabilities fit nicely with existing config pages for the wireless environment. Using BlueSecure smart access points as a distributed boundary between the controlled and untrusted parts of the network, standard 802.1q VLANing is used to direct untrusted traffic into the nearest capable AP for policy enforcement. The APs do double duty for both wireless access and unified wired and wireless security management in a framework that provides client authentication flexibility, system resiliency and a scalable architecture. Given that vWLAN is a software-based solution that capitalizes on basic VLAN capabilities of existing network switches and a licensed feature set on Bluesocket 802.11n access points, many existing customer environments already have all of the physical building blocks they need to get started with vWLAN 2.1. Add a few licenses and VLAN configs, and a wireless network becomes much more with vWLAN 2.1.

As mentioned earlier, Bluesocket's vWLAN solution downplays the importance of the controller but does not eliminate it. The vWLAN appliance is still required as the mothership for all policy and intelligence in force throughout the distributed topology, but not as a central plane that all client traffic must pass through. Also, the appliance can be virtualized, which I'd like to see as an option for any wireless solution as a hedge against what is often the most expensive single piece of WLAN hardware. As wireless networks continue to grow and get more sophisticated, and as enterprises no longer see the wired and wireless spaces as distinct from each other, vWLAN 2.1 is certainly an example of evolution. For Bluesocket customers in need of a wired client security solution, it just may be a revolution.