14 October 2009

The Shoe Drops: Brocade Dumps Single-Channel Architecture

Brocade yesterday announced that it will be reselling a new line of wireless LANs. Foundry (now part of Brocade) has been reselling wireless LANs for some time, so aside from a new OEM supplier where is the news?

Well, it turns out that Brocade didn't just select another vendor. It selected a completely different wireless LAN technology.

For roughly three years Foundry has been reselling Meru's proprietary single-channel / virtual-cell architecture. Meru has long made what we consider to be outrageous claims about its proprietary technology - airtime fairness, high throughput, fewer required access points, and so on. The Foundry team has had years of experience understanding the real strengths and weaknesses of Meru's single-channel networks, their 802.11n technology, their network management. They have deployed wireless LANs with virtual-cell technology across a range of customer types - education, healthcare, business. They, better than any single customer, knew the strengths and weaknesses of the vendor and the technology.

The upshot of yesterday’s news? Single-channel wireless LAN technology was rejected by the customer that knew it best.

Changing an OEM supplier is a decision that is never made lightly because it profoundly impacts the customer base and the company's reputation. Customers who invested in the single-channel / virtual-cell architecture are surely asking why Brocade abandoned a network that was supposed to be so innovative. What are the limitations and deficiencies that caused Brocade to change the underlying architecture as well as the vendor? The Brocade announcement is a watershed because it is a repudiation of the proprietary single-channel architecture. It also serves as a cautionary tale that vendor claims that sound too good to be true generally are.

The technology shift from single-channel to a new architecture will likely be very disruptive to Brocade’s customers. Brocade has already removed the Meru-based products from its Web site, and support-related issues will no doubt be unpleasant. But all is not lost.

Aruba wants Brocade’s wireless LAN customers as our customers, and we have a generous trade-in program to ease the pain of the transition to our award-winning adaptive 802.11n networks. Switching to Aruba will be a real step-up for those customers because we have field-proven adaptive wireless management, wireless infrastructure control, remote networking, wireless intrusion detection, policy-based firewalling, and client-to-core security that were never before available from Meru. Our AirWave Wireless Management Suite will manage their legacy Brocade/Meru network from the same console from which they will manage their brand spanking new Aruba wireless LAN.

The transition will be smooth and Brocade’s customers will be stepping up to a more secure, more stable platform from Aruba. And instead of a story line they'll be getting the real deal.