While the rest of the wireless LAN industry comes and goes, it seems like Bluesocket plans to stick around. One of the first into the field with a security gateway that managed "fat" access points, it was written off by many (us included) a year ago, when Cisco's purchase of Airespace sealed the success of WLAN switches and "thin" APs.
A year on, the company is still around, and vice president of marketing Dave Danielson updated us on the company's product re-vamp, and his view of the wireless state of play.
It's still an early market
Bluesocket sees three distinct kinds of wireless customer:
- Greenfield sites with no wireless,
- early adopters who already of some wireless LAN equipment but need to upgrade, and
- refuseniks, who want no truck with wireless LANs.
As all good wireless LAN vendors know, even the last type is a prospect - with consumer WLAN equipment dirt-cheap, it takes a system of WLAN probes to prevent rogue access points. "Secure government types of operations tend to be leery of wireless security," says Danielson.
Of the wireless enthusiasts, the bigger group is the greenfield sites, although it's shifting in North America, he says, where a pretty big section have wireless now, and need to upgrade it for new features.
These people are perhaps Bluesocket's natural targets, with a product set that manages existing access points. "We can help you with what you've got now," says Danielson. "Interoperability is a strength of our product - everyone else has to offer a forklift upgrade."
The company's most recent announcement is an upgrade to its BlueView management system to handle Cisco, Proxim, Avaya and 3Com access points.
Living with Cisco
New users may be harder to convince - especially the larger ones that tend to go to Cisco. "We have a great story, but sometimes a great story is difficult to get across in an environment that also has Cisco," he says. "We have better security and an absolute certainty you are not losing anything on QoS or security. We guarantee lower cost, and better ease of use - which means lower operational expense."
The fly in the ointment, he says, is the relative size of the organisations. Bluesocket has a quarter the sales people Aruba does, and one tenth the wireless sales staff of Cisco. "Cisco has magnitudes more feet on the street than we do," he says, and that's enough to send the big organisations elsewhere. "The Largest companies respond to handholding, and Cisco's going to by and large win those."
It's not a technical problem, just logistics, he says: "Some people think we can't scale, but we have some of the largest networks there are. We have customers that have tens of thousands of users, scaled through distributed intelligence, as opposed to big centralised boxes."
This is not as big a problem as one might expect, even though Bluesocket made its name securing Cisco access points before Cisco acquired Airespace to do the job in-house. "Two years ago, our typical customers had Cisco Aironet access points," concedes Danielson. "People would say 'I trust you to do the security of those'".
Shooting for the mid market
"In the middle market, in companies with 50 to 1000 users, we do extraordinarily well," says Danielson. "In fact we get an advantage." With Cisco you have to buy an Airespace switch and buy or upgrade some Catalyst switches, and Aruba has to sell a wireless infrastructure which tends to add up, says Danielson: "They have a many layered pricing structure, while we include all security, at a low price. We have one box instead of multiple boxes. Middle market customers respond to that."
"The education market and the library market tend to be a little less brand conscious," says Danielson. "Once a customer like Rutgers [University] tries an AP, they say 'I'm not really married to my vendor'".
With fewer staff, Blusocket works through partners. "We don't do direct business - we stick to partners," he says. "We can't succeed unless they do."
But it will have to be fast-moving. Where large organisations accept upgrades that take a long while, smaller companies will want to get hold of new technologies like 802.11n, and maybe even voice, more quickly. "We will be aggressive in boosting the performance of the AP, " he says. "We intend to be the market leading AP company."
"Everyone asks about voice, and we're going to talk about it more," he says. "There's not a large group of people doing it , but they want to know a system is voice-ready. The last thing they want is to put the system in in again, in a year and half.
The product upgrade
Bluesocket decided last year that it needed a wireless switch - a decision which put it out of phase with all the other players, says Danielson. "While everyone was ramping sales, we were re-vectoring our product."
"The good news, when you're late to a party, is you get to do it right the first time. We're able to do it so there is no forklift upgrade to the switch." The company now has a wireless switch, and has issued management and firmware upgrades for Cisco, Proxim and other access points to work with it.
He also majors on his access points, describing them as "third generation," beyond the old "thin v fat" argument, but pointing out their comparative cheapness for enterprise kit, and promising lots of upgrades to new technology: "To be candid, if you're coming late to the party, you may have to be bold to get people to pay attention."
To address the wireless refuseniks, the company came up with a centralised sensor. "It's a specific purpose box, a super listener," he says. The product has an array panel of antennas, in one box, that listen to sectors, so one box can monitor wireless activity in four or five floors of a whole building. "The alternative is to install nine individual sensors through the buiding," he says.
That's created an unexpected market, he says where people use the sensor to accredit organisations' Wi-Fi security, where regulations require it: "They take Blueview and the centralised sensor, put it in one week, and two weeks later get SoX or HIPAA certification for wireless."
People that really want to stamp out wireless have to expand a little: Bluesocket APs can act as "attack dogs" and contain rogue access points with denial of service attacks, but this is a specialised idea - especially when you consider the possibility of accidentally shutting down the Wi-Fi hotspot in the Starbucks next door: "Our experience is that people like the Star Wars aspect of active containment, but not a lot of people actually do it."
"We usually win when security is an issue," he says. "Only Aruba and Bluesocket have a stateful firewall - the others just do port filtering."
As well as this, he points to features like the ability for a receptionist to set up guest access passes to the corporate network, and claims (like other other wireless companies) that his wireless controller is often also used to secure wired Ethernet sockets.