Cisco Unites Wired, Wireless. Who’s Next?

Cisco made big news with its announcement of a new silicon-level platform that provides unified access for wired and wireless infrastructure. Rivals should pay attention.

The idea behind the Unified Access Data Plane (UADP) is to provide a single controller for traditional data networks and for the new mobile platforms that are springing up like wildfire across the enterprise. It’s the culmination of nearly $100 million in research and development, which provides some indication of the opportunities that lie ahead as the enterprise scrambles to accommodate workers’ desire to stay connected through something other than the desktop.

Of course, integrated wired/wireless platforms are nothing new. Huawei, HP and many other companies offer campus solutions in which wireless access controllers are integrated into standard networking switches. In this way, enterprises can govern both entities using the same security and management tools — thus avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel in order to reap the benefits of mobility.

The key thing to remember, though, is that Cisco is proposing a unified infrastructure on the ASIC level. This proposal represents an entirely new class of networking hardware that allows people to build unified networks from the ground up, essentially uniting two distinct logical networks into one. The first iterations: the Catalyst 3850, which supports up to 50 wireless access points and 2,000 wireless clients, as well as up to 48 10 GbE ports; and the 5760 Wireless LAN controller, capable of 1,000 access points and up to 60 Gbps of raw throughput. Both devices utilize the Linux-based IOS-XE operating system.

At the moment, Cisco is the only company providing an integrated, unified networking ASIC. Nevertheless, wireless infrastructure is already making its way onto silicon, so it isn’t hard to imagine that unified platforms will begin to sprout up across a diverse range of portfolios before long.

For example, Broadcom recently released a new wireless SoC solution, the StrataXGS BCM56340 Series. It provides advanced features like distributed security intelligence, smart buffering/adaptive management of network workloads and Layer 2 multipathing. The company is already billing it as a unified solution, but the SoC itself handles only the wireless portion.

Currently, much of the activity surrounding the unification of wired and wireless infrastructure centers on adding wireless capability to legacy LAN and WAN architectures. As such, a solution like UADP is probably not at the top of many CIO’s lists right now. But as refresh cycles come due, and as legions of new enterprises spring up in the hunt for market share in the cloud, demand for streamlined, integrated solutions that can accommodate all forms of data communications is likely to grow.

In that light, any Cisco rivals that aren’t keen on being dominated in the next generation of network infrastructure—like they were in the last—need to kick their own unified development plans into high gear sooner rather than later.

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