Colubris, which sells Wi-Fi access points aimed at service providers, is readying a centralised Wi-Fi system for enterprises - and re-opening the old arguments about just how to build such a system and hook it into the wired network.
"Wi-Fi is now mature enough to be an integral part of the infrastructure," said Pierre Trudeau, chief technical officer and founder of Colubris. "The WLAN switch will disappear - it will dissolve into thin air."
The company will launch an appliance, which it calls a "multiservice WLAN controller" in June, which will work with "intelligent" APs, providing RF management and roaming. It is also rebranding its access points network management software to make more of them. In 2006, the company promises to converge WLAN and wired access on one unified edge switch.
This future product is supposed to replace Ethernet switches, said Trudeau. This means it can only be sold successfully by an existing infrastructure provider, but who? Colubris is not saying anything, but Trudeau pulled his best poker face at the suggestion of backbone switch-maker Juniper, which has ambitions to move to the edge, and already works with Colubris for service provider deals.
In passing, Trudeau denies any involvement in Juniper's only wireless product so far, the NetScreen 5GT, a firewall with a standalone AP bolted in - reviewed here.
The WLAN controller to be launched in June is different from the WLAN switches of Airespace, Aruba and Trapeze, because the MAC is entirely on the access point, said Trudeau: "There is no MAC splitting". This means that wireless traffic can be scrutinised in detail, and handled appropriately instead of shoving it all in a tunnel till it reaches the WLAN switch: "We use a VLAN trunk, not an IP tunnel. All the user flows are exposed."
It differs from the appliances of Bluesocket and now-defunct ReefEdge, he said. Although these deal with intelligent APs, he said, "we are not in the data path". These appliances act as a firewall between wired and wireless networks, and all user traffic from the wireless zone passes through them.
The controller will have hard disk storage to carry information about the location of devices and the RF characteristics of the WLAN. For this reason, it will continue when the promised converged switch arrives: "You don't want a hard disk in an edge switch, for MTBF reasons," he said.
Trudeau is disamingly candid about Colubris' designs on the enterprise - which he claims have been going on for some time already (though not so we've noticed). "Two years ago, our VC people asked us to do it: there's a $2.2 billion market coming in the enterprise, and only a $1.2 billion market in carriers."
Despite initially going for what turned out to be the smaller end of the Wi-Fi market, Trudeau says Colubris has been very successful. He claims to have come second in market share amongst the start-ups last year, after Airespace's claimed $40 million, and before Aruba - though he declined to actually quote a figure.