Wi-Fi Kool-Aid: A Tale of Two FlavorsBy CWNP On 04/16/2009 - 11 Comments
Since I went ahead and threw down the gauntlet in my last post, I thought you should taste-test a couple of Kool-Aid 'samples' while I had everything out on the table.
'Kool-Aid' is about a company's overall approach (philosophy) to networking (in this case, Wi-Fi networking). At first sip, you might think the two flavors we’ll be discussing taste similar, but one of them has a bit of a 'twang.' It's like sweet tea that's been sitting out a little too long, and if you're an avid sweet tea drinker like me, that twang isn't a good thang. Motorola, Aruba, and Meru, (the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place Wi-Fi vendors in the market) ALL serve up an 'All Wireless Enterprise' flavor. In contrast, Cisco serves up the 'Wireless-is-an-Extension-of-the-Wired-network' variety.
ALL WIRELESS ENTERPRISE (AWE) means the distribution and access layers of the traditional 'Core, Distribution, Access' network design layers are primarily, if not entirely, wireless. Wi-Fi would, in today's market, be the primary technology for access. But Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and other technologies could serve in a distribution layer capacity. It's a given that the core of any sizable network will remain wired for capacity and dependability. Vendors who are serving AWE flavor know this, and have typically partnered with wired infrastructure vendors (if they can't offer wired infrastructure equipment themselves) to provide this part of the networking meal plan. More or less, AWE vendors believe that wireless brings a significant value to the enterprise when implemented properly, and they want to specialize in that area alone.
WIRELESS as an EXTENSION of the WIRED network (WEW) gives you a mixture that allows wireless to add value to the wired network, but the wired network remains 'primary' - even out to the network's edge (access layer). WEW flavor has the underlying requirement of the vendor or the vendor's partner(s) being able to (and wanting to) sell primarily wired networking equipment. Wireless networking equipment is then sold only where specifically needed (when wired network equipment can't do the job) for the purpose of maximizing gross income.
Think of the impact that each flavor has on the financial bottom line of the buyer. The value proposition for Wi-Fi is extremely high versus wired networks. That isn't just my opinion - it's basically a universal truth at this point. If you disagree, pause now to give yourself a chance to change your mind. :)
Better yet, let me provide a specific example. Aruba, Motorola, and Meru all have 'Remote AP' capability where the Remote AP can connect back to its controller over the Internet using an IPsec VPN tunnel. That's pretty sweet. Cisco doesn't have this feature. Why? Kool-Aid is why. Certainly Cisco, the undisputed KING of VPN technology, could add that feature to their APs quickly and easily, but they haven't. Why? It cuts into their VPN appliance business (part of the wired infrastructure). Consider which of the following costs less:
1) A VPN endpoint device plus an AP for every home office OR... just an AP for every home office?
2) A large VPN concentrator at the corporate office with a VPN endpoint software license and an AP for every road warrior OR... just an AP for the road warrior?
My point: WEW makes the wired network the primary, and that costs more – a lot more. Taste that twang yet?
Think of the impact that each flavor has on a company's org chart. WEW flavor causes a single IT Manager to oversee all IT operations. In the recent past, that was a huge task to say the least. Now, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and even cellular technologies are being used for network access, and these technologies are converging on single client devices. If you add this to the plethora of applications that must operate seamlessly over the Wi-Fi infrastructure (e.g. VoWiFi, RTLS, streaming video, etc.), there are as many aspects to a wireless network as there are to a wired network (e.g. wired infrastructure, server virtualization, network security, etc.). AWE causes organizations to assign an IT Manager to oversee the traditional wired network and another IT Manager to oversee all aspects of wireless. In this way, IT Managers can be more proficient in their areas of specialty, while their organizations can be more efficient at implementing an innumerable variety of new technologies.
My point: Drinking WEW flavor is kind of like drinking the water in Florida. It tastes fine to natives, until they give North Georgia mountain spring water a try. Thereafter, Florida water tastes like somebody added a few yummy drops of sewage to it. Think how great it would be to see Florida water bottled and priced twice as high as that North Georgia spring water. Wouldn’t you just want to run right out and get you some of that at your local convenience store? After all, it has a little something extra…
In case regular Cisco Berry Blue is a little bland for your palate, let’s sample some SPIKED Kool-Aid before you rush off. The spiking agent, the CCX Program, appears harmless enough and is highly addictive, so beware. It's like getting hammered on Soju: you'll never see it coming.
Let's say you're a client vendor with minimal development resources who wants to sell as many client devices as possible. Making your client utilities compatible with Cisco's proprietary features is a no-brainer, right? After all, Cisco holds approximately 60% market share. You integrate CCX into your client utilities, and suddenly you're beholden to Cisco for the rest of your career for mandatory paid product retesting, using the CCX logo, and more. Did I mention that this Kool-Aid is spiked? There are other spiking agents as well. Remember LEAP? How many enterprises have had to drink some serious antidote to get off that stuff? How many are still hooked and dying a slow Wi-Fi security death because of LEAP? The only thing worse than bad Kool-Aid, is bad spiked Kool-Aid.
My point: These spiking agents are a little like Mr. Smith in Matrix III. Everyone he touches becomes another copy of him. Same concept applies. Everywhere you look, more Pantone 7477... If you haven't seen the movie, no more excuses - rent it tonight. I don't care if you don't like Keanu Reeves.
All I'm saying is that 'all is not as it seems' when you’re selecting flavors of Kool-Aid. You can't just pick up any old glass of colored liquid and start drinking it down. Sure, it might quench your thirst for the moment, and you might even be able to get past that funky twang if you're thirsty enough, but if that lively liquid is spiked with something you weren’t expecting, you're going to pay.
In closing, let me make it clear that in no way am I promoting one company’s hardware or software over another’s. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Cisco makes high-quality hardware and software. If you’re happy with what you’re buying from Cisco, Aruba, Meru, Motorola, and all the rest, I’m happy for you. All I’m saying is that the buyer should ALWAYS beware of a vendor’s Kool-Aid. It’s part of their sales pitch, it’s part of their product specifications, it’s part of their support documentation, and more than anything else, it’s part of their training and certification programs. This blog post was designed to present specific Kool-Aid ‘samples’ from the world’s largest Kool-Aid distributor – not to belittle Cisco or their products in any way.
My point: Try the Rock-a-dile Red flavor. Remember, it’s the Matrix.