Aerohive Networks is planning to put branch offices' networks in the cloud for a annual fee starting at $99 (£63).

The company introduced a product yesterday that combines Aerohive's wireless LAN gear and network management software with cloud technology it acquired by buying Pareto Networks in January. The end product is designed to be a secure, enterprise-class network that can be set up and managed with virtually no effort by at-home workers or branch employees.

The product, called Branch on Demand, has roots in Aerohive's wireless LAN management system but takes the company beyond Wi-Fi into complete branch networks. With it, enterprises can send routers out to branch offices and telecommuters' homes and automatically upload a consistent set of policies to them as soon as they're plugged in, said Joel Vincent, director of product marketing.

Once the remote router has those policies, it can operate autonomously if it needs to, a capability that competitors' products don't have, Vincent said. But Branch on Demand is intended to be a "network as a service," with regular reporting from the branch to the cloud-based management system and the ability to send updates.

Cloud security

Customers can also add cloud-based security services, specifically Websense and Barracuda, to strengthen their branch network capabilities, Vincent said. They also can deploy Aerohive's Cloud VPN Gateway, a VMware-compliant application, to provide VPN (virtual private network) connections at branches. The gateway is available for $450 per year.

Enterprises will be able to send a router out to remote workers, let them follow simple instructions to plug it in, and monitor and manage the device from then on, Vincent said. Leveraging capabilities in the cloud, the router can become a network with effectively the same features as a full enterprise LAN, according to Aerohive. The enterprise doesn't have to own any hardware at the branch, though it can purchase the router instead of renting it, Vincent said.

Branch on Demand incorporates technology that originated with Pareto Networks' cloud-based router/VPN service. Aerohive had said it would start selling those features in the second quarter of this year, but it then decided to integrate them more seamlessly into Aerohive's own technology, which took more time, Vincent said. The management software and user interfaces are consistent across all features of the product now, he said.

Aerohive is introducing two branch routers to use with the service. The BR100 (above) will have five Fast Ethernet ports, IEEE 802.11n Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band and a USB port for adding 3G or 4G wireless backhaul. The BR200 will have five Gigabit Ethernet ports, dual-band Wi-Fi, USB and other added features. The BR100 will be available in the middle of next month and can be used with the $99-per-year service. The BR200 will ship in early 2012, according to Aerohive.

In addition, Aerohive's current HiveAP 330 and 350 Wi-Fi access points can be turned into branch routers with HiveOS 5.0, a free upgrade to the company's network operating system. With the upgrade, the APs will also be able to use 3G or 4G wireless for primary or backup wide-area network connections.

"Solutions like this will lead to more robust networking at smaller and smaller branches," said analyst John Burke of Nemertes Research. If corporate IT departments can deploy remote networks without all the work of pre-configuring, setup and installation, they can be more nimble in establishing new sites, he said.

Also, once a new branch or home office is networked, the security features Aerohive is offering can give remote users more flexibility, Burke said. For example, it will be easier for IT to let them use their own mobile devices on the network.

Flexibility

The Branch on Demand service doesn't currently offer all the capabilities of a dedicated branch router such as Cisco's Integrated Services Router, including IP PBX (Internet Protocol Private Branch Exchange) for voice calls, but it can meet the needs of many sites that have less advanced networks today, Burke said.

Also, a cloud-based branch network has all the inherent downsides of any cloud service, Burke noted. "Putting that up inside a cloud provider's network makes your security dependent on their security," he said. "If there's a problem, you don't have control over how quickly it's responded to," he added.

However, there is a demand for branch technology that gives enterprises more flexibility, he said. Aerohive isn't the only vendor following the cloud-based branch network concept, and it won't be the last, Burke believes. Meraki and Aryaka are among the companies moving in this direction, and Avaya may soon follow, he said.

The cloud-based approach may also allow major carriers to deploy far less expensive managed services and still make a profit, Burke said. "I would hope some adventurous souls pick this up and run with it."