The Hummingbird Sings a Song

The Hummingbird Sings a Song

By CWNP On 09/21/2009 - 8 Comments

A few weeks back, I provided a mild poke at Colubris for their apparent post-HP-acquisition silence.  Most vendors don’t turn up a big smile at such things, so it came as no surprise to me that Colubris was pleased to provide us with some details about their comings and goings since acquisition.  I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t read every press release—at least, not if I want to see my family—so I miss some of the good stuff.  Since my last article, I’ve found that Colubris has been doing some critical integration work with HP and they’ve released a few new products.  This is good news.  Added competition for the big players, innovation, and integration should all prove to be valuable.  Here’s the quick rundown of what I’ve learned.

As you might imagine, an important first step to the acquisition is integration.  Meeting that need, Colubris integrated wireless management into their already-existing enterprise-class NMS solution (ProCurve Manager Plus – PMP).  The WLAN addition is a simple plug-in to the PMP, called ProCurve Mobility Manager (PMM).  It looks to include many of the traditional features that we’ve come to expect from a WNMS, including predictive RF tools, automated RF display and management with floorplans, configuration for centralized and/or remote devices, security reporting, network monitoring, and more.  This step indicates to me that HP’s motivation to buy Colubris is to scale the product and broaden its target audience.  This point is further supported by the next development.

What do module-based chassis have to do with major Wi-Fi vendors that aren’t Cisco?  Nothing.  But, for Cisco’s competitors in the wired infrastructure space—cue HP—chassis-based modules offer a great opportunity for integration of additional products.  Like most vendors, HP already offers standalone controllers, but they also—wisely, in my opinion—used the last few months to develop new options for WLAN controller modules as well (called the MSM765zl).  For HP customers that have an existing infrastructure with open chassis slots, the module should provide easier integration of wireless in the data center, and hopefully, lower overall cost.  Smart.

My family got a printer for Christmas last year.  It’s a wireless photo printer that prints, scans, copies, and has a whole host of other features you don’t typically expect from a “printer.”  Same goes in my living room.  How is a guy supposed to keep track of remotes for the receiver, DVD player, TV, DIRECTV, and whatever else?  It’s impossible; hence, the universal remote.  If you’re picking up what I’m laying down, then you’re realizing what HP/Colubris (one of these days, I’ll just call them HP) realized about their principal vertical markets: unified form factors simplify life.  They created the MSM317, the Swiss Army knife of client access.  It was a confusing moment when I first opened the package from HP and thought they had sent a simple multi-port wall-jack.  I laughed to myself wondering why they would send such a thing to wireless-centric CWNP.  Of course, I read the docs and found that the MSM317 is not only a wall-jack, but also a 4-port Ethernet switch, an 802.11g AP, a PoE PSE, and it has a separate pass-through port as well.  How clever.  Imagine the cost and complexity of providing every hotel or school room with several Ethernet ports, wireless, VoIP, and any other IP-based services.  The cost of cabling runs and switch ports alone would be incredible.  Conversely, imagine running one PoE-capable cable, which powers the MSM317 sufficiently enough that it can then provide Class 2 (7 Watts) PoE to an IP phone or other powered device (PD).  You manage it the same way as other APs, so you have easy port control and VLAN management.  The mounting procedure for this unit is also top-notch as are the faceplates that eliminate aesthetic concerns in hotels and other beauty-conscious locations. 

My only hang-up with the product is that they used low-gain semi-directional antennas instead of omnis.  Initially, that seems to make sense, because they intend to create a micro-cell architecture in which each AP covers the room in which it is installed.  But, I’m a little curious if, in some environments, creating such a dense micro-cell deployment will increase co-channel interference significantly.  I’m sure you’re thinking that omnis would be even worse, and I agree; however, with omnidirectional coverage, you could increase the power output on some APs, which would allow you to turn other ones off altogether.  802.11g radios are silly cheap, so paying for a unit with integrated wireless and then turning wireless off doesn’t really pose a cost problem.  Similarly, omnis would provide flexibility for a greater breadth of RF environments, including homes.  No less, I haven’t seen it—nor measured SNR—in a real deployment, so this is all conjecture.  Perhaps some of the design experts can weigh in on this. 

Either way, it seems that HP is putting a stamp on Colubris as a smart investment.  If they can continue this trend and gain visibility in the wireless market, they may put more pressure on Cisco to innovate in the wireless space.  Interestingly enough, HP even called Cisco out in a recent @procurve tweet regarding their new wireless module: “Your move, Cisco.”  In the meantime, I’ll be curious to see what HP has in store. 


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