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Startup's WLAN approach appeals to Ivy League school

Configuring dozens of wireless LAN access points can be tedious to say the least, but centralization hardware from startup Chantry Networks is helping a university scale and manage its WLAN more efficiently. Yet an analyst questions whether companies will favor Chantry's routed approach over a traditional switched architecture.

With companies deploying larger wireless local area networks, many vendors have jumped on the wireless LAN switch bandwagon in order to centralize management. One startup has jumped completely over the bandwagon by offering something no one else is: a routed wireless LAN.

Chantry Networks Inc., a Newton, Mass.-based company, has a wireless LAN hardware system called BeaconWorks that uses Internet Protocol to better centralize management and infrastructure for large-scale wireless LAN deployments, said Peter Vicars, Chantry's CEO.

While switched wireless LANs require a separate cable from an access point to a centralized switch, where the data is then moved onto the network, Chantry's approach allows IT mangers to plug access points directly into an existing network. The routers can be centralized in one room, and they are capable of handling up to 100 access points each.

That consolidated architecture is what appealed to Cornell University. The university already has a 150-access point wireless system in place. Jason Rhoades, Cornell's director of network and communication services, said that those access points need to be configured individually, which can be very time consuming for his small IT staff.

The university plans to expand the wireless network across its entire 750-acre campus, and that expansion will require a network of more than 1,000 access points. So Rhoades began looking for a way to centralize management while also taking advantage of his existing infrastructure.

He considered going with the switched approach to wireless networking now being offered by Symbol Technologies Inc., Trapeze Networks Inc., Aruba Networks Inc. and others. But he felt that switching, which moves intelligence from the access point to the switch, could still require too many switches spread around campus that he would still have to manage.

"Putting another box in every building was not an option for us," Rhoades said.

With Chantry's system, Rhoades can plug the "dumb" access points into the network and centralize Chantry's routers in the same room. That way, he said, anyone can install a new access point, and configurations can be made in one place. As the network grows, he said, he just needs to add more boxes to the rack.

Maribel Dolinov, a principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, said that one benefit of the routed approach is that it scales easily. But she added that many companies may feel more comfortable with a switched architecture, since that more closely resembles many of today's enterprise networks.

Like many of the wireless LAN approaches smaller companies are taking, Chantry's system targets a specific kind of deployment, said Craig Mathias, principal of the Framingham, Mass.-based Farpoint Group. The routed approach will work best for large deployments across university and corporate campuses, as well as large, multi-site deployments.

While Rhoades has been happy with what he has seen from testing Chantry's product, the rollout will stretch into the summer, when Chantry has enough of its product available for the large deployment.

The fact that the company is still ramping up is indicative both of how young this market is and of the surprising success of wireless LAN products in a flat IT market. This year's Networld+Interop conference in Las Vegas featured a dozen or more companies offering their own slightly different approaches to wireless LAN management.

Mathias said he expects those approaches to shake out over the next six to eight months, as companies gravitate towards similar feature sets and clear winners are established.

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