Cisco's Airespace Buy Fills WLAN Gap


Cisco Systems pushed further into the wireless space last week, embracing the WLAN switch model with its planned $450 million acquisition of privately held Airespace.

The acquisition will give Cisco something it was lacking: a wireless product line targeted at midsize companies, solution providers said.

San Jose, Calif.-based Airespace is one of a number of wireless startups to espouse a "thin" architecture, which centralizes network intelligence on a WLAN switch paired with stripped-down access points. Cisco, also based in San Jose, has been a vocal proponent of traditional WLAN architecture, which builds intelligence into access points.

"Cisco has always been very strong on a powerful feature-rich access point," said Jeff Roback, vice president of engineering at Praxis Computing, a Cisco partner in Los Angeles. "It's always been a big selling point for it, the security and performance."

However, Cisco's "fat" access points carry with them a hefty price tag, solution providers said. While Cisco addresses the low end of the market with offerings from its Linksys division, Airespace's products are a better fit for the midmarket and will fill a hole in the middle of Cisco's product line, said Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of Tribeca Technologies, a New York-based solution provider.

"It's an architecture that has a place," Berzack said. For customers such as retail chains that have thousands of locations but only a few access points in each store, traditional access points fit best. But for large warehouses or campus environments, a centrally managed WLAN can make more sense, he said.

Cisco plans to support both its existing wireless products and the Airespace WLAN portfolio, integrating features and functionality where possible, said Alex Thurber, director of security and wireless for worldwide channels at Cisco.

"The interest on our side is in having a comprehensive portfolio, so that we have a portfolio that meets all of our customers' needs," Thurber said. "There are situations where our products are the right fit, and there are situations where [Airespace's] products are the right fit," he said.

With the acquisition, Cisco will inherit Airespace's worldwide channel of 200 partners.

Airespace's strategy of recruiting security-focused solution providers to sell its wireless wares makes its channel base particularly appealing to Cisco, Thurber said. "There's a great synergy between wired, wireless and security," he said.

The combination of market-leading Cisco and a technology leader such as Airespace makes for a formidable competitor, said Thomas Lapping, president and CEO of JDL Technologies, a solution provider based in Minneapolis that works with both Airespace and Cisco. "The game is to the point where it's the demise for smaller players in the market," he said.

Lapping said he expects the acquisition to dramatically grow JDL's sales of Airespace products, particularly among current Cisco customers. "We have a lot of customers who are Cisco shops but were intrigued by the Airespace technology. Now, it's not an issue," he said.

Airespace's technology will be given Cisco product numbers and names soon after the deal closes and will likely be folded into Cisco's wireless technology specialization for partners rather than given a separate specialization, Thurber said.

"Our plan is to communicate [to partners] as quickly as possible with our product road map and training road map," he said. "Hopefully right after the close [of the deal] we'll have a good training [program] ready to go."