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Aerohive Courts Controller-less WiFi

In typical enterprise WiFi  deployments, there are access points that provide access and controllers that control access and management.

One startup is trying to get rid of the controller to save customers some important dollars.

Aerohive is hawking a new approach where policy and management control is distributed in a cooperative way across access points in a hive architecture -- sans controller.

"It enables a next-generation, controller-less wireless LAN architecture which gives users all the management and security they buy controllers for but without the problems associated with controllers like cost, performance and complexity," Aerohive CEO David Flynn told internetnews.com.

Aerohive's cooperative control access point is called the HiveAP 20 ag and runs HiveOS on top of standard hardware and a standard Linux kernel. . Flynn explained that HiveOS is based on Linux, with Aerohive sprinkling in some features for good measure.

Aerohive also uses what Flynn described as a "fairly standard enterprise class access point," with hardware that includes a chipset and radio from vendors that other wireless vendors use.

"The hardware is not the secret sauce here. The magic is the software that makes it all work," Flynn said.

This "magic software" enables multiple HiveAPs to work together in a hive fashion to implement a controller-less wireless network. HiveAP includes stateful roaming, a feature that allows a user to move across an enterprise campus without dropping connection.

"So if clients are moving around on the network from access point to access point, we coordinate between the access points to seamlessly hand off," Flynn explained.

User credentials are also handed off between HiveAPs in a roaming situation, so users can remain logged into secure applications. The HiveAPs also intelligently distribute network loads across the Hive to boost wireless performance.

The Best Path Forwarding feature further improves wireless network performance by forwarding the traffic down to the highest speed available link without the bottleneck of backhaul to the controller.

Flynn explained that in the traditional controller-based architecture, there is a backhaul of traffic back to the controller to enable security and management.

"Our architecture gives the same management, mobility and security but with a cleaner network architecture that eliminates backhaul -- there is no single point of failure and no bottleneck to a single point of aggregation," Flynn said.

Aerohive also offers a management product, called the Hive Manager, which Flynn said is not a controller. Hive Manger is not required to operate the HiveAP, but it does simplify configuration and provisioning and is used as a central management console.

"A thin access point without a controller is a paperweight: you have to have a controller there," Flynn said. "In our case you can unplug the Hive Manager or lose your link back to the headquarters and the network keeps running fine."

With the new products, Aerohive is officially out of stealth mode. The company's founders include veterans from networking firm NetScreen, which was Juniper Networks purchased in 2004 for $4 billion.

"We took on Cisco and the networking giants with NetScreen," Flynn said. "Our goal is to do the same thing here."