RealTime IT News

Meru AP1000i Makes Virtual Cell More Affordable

Meru's unique virtual cell / virtual port architecture is designed to optimize mobility and reliability while delivering per-client, app-aware quality-of-service control. Enterprises often turn to Meru after becoming frustrated with a previously-deployed micro-cell WLAN, or when rolling out new infrastructure to support voice and other demanding real-time applications.

But Meru's flagship AP300 is a relatively sophisticated 3x3 802.11abgn access point that not everyone can justify deploying ubiquitously throughout an enterprise, including branch offices, retail stores, or other low-density venues. Many smaller businesses, hotels and K-12 schools that might otherwise benefit from Meru's reliability don't really need (and cannot afford) app-aware traffic shaping and tagging.

To better serve customers attracted to Meru's unique architecture that don't require ultra-QoS control everywhere, Meru today announced a new entry-level product: the AP1000i.

Making mobility more affordable

The AP1010 ($395) is a single-radio, dual-band-switchable 2x2 802.11abgn access point, ideal for smaller venues like storefronts or branch offices. The AP1020 ($695) is a dual-radio version of the same product, slated for larger or higher user-density sites like schools and hotels.

Both build on Meru's virtual cell / virtual port architecture, which tunes all APs to the same channel(s) to create gap-free "RF blankets." In a Meru WLAN, mobile clients don't waste time scanning for better APs or deciding when to roam. Instead, roaming decisions and AP handoffs are managed by Meru Controllers to satisfy SLAs defined by a Service Assurance Manager.

According to Product Manager Graham Melville, the AP1000i will excel in wireless-unfriendly environments that must deliver simplistic or lower-density traffic very reliably, but at low cost. "The AP1000i can overcome sticky client problems without costly channel planning or trouble-shooting," said Melville. Sweet spots include locations where wireless is needed but not yet used for primary access, or where traffic flows don't require shaping.

Cutting corners without sacrifice

The latter is important when deciding which AP to buy for each site, because Meru had to drop some functionality to make the AP1000i up to 30 percent less expensive. Eliminating one transmit-receive radio chain resulted in obvious savings, with direct impact on per-AP throughput.

But there are many venues that don't require 450 Mbps rates or dozens of concurrent clients -- even in large WLANs. Without an aggressively-priced AP, some Meru customers were forced to consider less-capable micro-cell APs when expanding wireless out to hundreds or thousands of satellite offices. Being able to deploy Meru APs consistently throughout, using APs sized and priced to fit each venue, provides clear benefit to those customers.

However, Meru also achieved subtle cost savings by eliminating some advanced processing from the AP1000i -- notably, some of the QoS controls that have made Meru so successful in voice-over-Wi-Fi networks. Like other Meru APs, the AP1000i supports WMM prioritization and queuing. However, according to Melville, the AP300's app-aware traffic shaping and upstream tagging are absent -- features that many AP1000i customers with less demanding apps won't miss.

Fitting in

But the AP1000i is not a stand-alone autonomous AP. Make no mistake: this is an entry-level, enterprise-class device, tightly integrated into Meru's centralized control and management infrastructure. When appropriate, traffic is securely tunneled through an upstream Controller. However, data path independence is clearly essential in any AP targeted for remote deployment. To that end, AP1000i's can survive loss of Controller connectivity, albeit without some centralized decisions like handoff optimization.

From a WLAN management perspective, the AP1000i plugs right into Meru's service assurance platform, which can deliver massively scalable provisioning, visualization, and "rewind and replay" trouble-shooting. However, the AP1000i will not support Meru's Service Assurance Manager (proactive network-wide testing and diagnostics) in its first release.

The AP1000i will start shipping in December 2010. According to Melville, early adopters include some of Meru's largest customers, looking to add thousands of APs to mission-critical networks.

"Enterprises are seeking ways to extend their reach to accommodate the new reality of globally distributed workforce and locations. They are demanding simple, reliable, seamless and efficient WLAN solutions to integrate remote offices into their corporate networks," said Ram Appalaraju, senior vice president of marketing. "With the AP1000i, our proven innovations are now available starting at new entry-level price points to enable no compromise secure, scalable and reliable WLAN solutions for the extended enterprises.î

Lisa Phifer owns Core Competence, a consulting firm focused on business use of emerging network and security technologies. An avid fan of all things wireless and frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet, Lisa has reviewed, deployed, and tested 802.11 products for nearly a decade.