Meru Network’s recently announced one-click solution to WLAN management is just the latest sign that tracking and optimizing the growing torrent of Wi-Fi signals is taking on new importance. The change is just in time. Managing data exchanged over radio waves is a “critical need” which has become a “perpetual challenge” for Wi-Fi vendors and users alike, says one Wi-Fi analyst.
As the number of PDAs, cell phones, VoIP gadgets and other wireless devices grow, so do the potential headaches. “There’s about 50 million 802.11 clients out there,” says Joel Vincent, Meru senior product marketing manager.
“Radio Frequency Spectrum Management is a critical need that’s not achieved significant visibility with either vendors or users,” said Craig Mathias, principal analyst with the Farpoint Group.
Managing WLANs consumes “easily less than four percent” of an enterprise’s wireless budget, according to Stephen Elliot, senior wireless analyst at IDC. He says RF management is a “common headache” for wireless enterprises, but has not yet approached the level of Wi-Fi security concerns.
As the state of WLANs matures, finding the right method for managing Wi-Fi connections “is the next natural step for IT managers,” according to Elliot.
What will increase the level for WLAN management is the moment when enterprises find they lack availability to crucial applications. Such incidents “will drive managing WLANs,” says Elliot.
Mathias says managing wireless RF is “a perpetual challenge.”
In a series of moves, Meru, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup company, is taking a cue from its customers and improving the usability of Wi-Fi.
“Wireless LAN performance isn’t just about speeds and feeds,” says Kamal Anand, vice president of marketing at Meru. “Equipment that is easier to deploy and operate reduces total cost of ownership, provides more predictable Wi-Fi service throughout an organization, and ultimately improves overall user satisfaction.”
Meru’s latest bid at user-friendly Wi-Fi management is an update of its System Director, the operating system for its switch. It now includes E(z)RF, which is billed as “the first self-optimizing WLAN system with one-touch installation.” The update reduces both the chances of interference and the need to repeatedly reconfigure wireless network management. E(z)RF essentially takes the power of Meru’s Air Traffic Control technology and puts it behind an easy-to-understand interface.
“A customer said to us he’d only need one button to configure a network and that’s what we did,” says Joel Vincent, Meru’s senior product marking manager. “It’s a straightforward concept, and there’s a lot of engineering to make it so simple.”
“If they can simplify the management experience for those companies that either lack the internal expertise or feel they get a ‘good enough’ solution with automatic configuration, that’s good,” says Julie Ask, senior wireless analyst with Jupiter Research. “If they can do so without taking away the ability to fine tune the network from those who are experienced and able to do so, even better.”
Meru’s solution is becoming increasingly important, especially with universities, where WLAN deployment is the greatest, according to Ask.
As WLANs grow and continually change, such dynamic management is critical, says Ask.
A recent survey of executives by Jupiter Research revealed strong interest in WLAN management. 42 percent of enterprises which decided to use WLANs in 2003 say they plan to buy additional nodes in 2004. The executives surveyed also indicated WLAN performance issues, including interference and transmission speeds, are top barriers to WLANs.
As company size increases, so does the importance of managing WLANs. While just 12 percent of small companies plan to manage their wireless networks, 33 percent of large companies intend to support their WLANs, according to the survey.
In a similar development, Meru tackled head-on the need for speedy connection while roaming a WLAN. It employs virtual access points (VAP) to deal with both quickly handing off connections from one AP to another and reducing co-channel interference created by competing radio signals.
With virtual APs, “all the access points are on the same channel,” says Vincent. “You can’t have all the APs on the same channel if there’s no management.”