Former NetScreeners Lead Launch Of WLAN Startup

wireless WLAN

The architecture provides the management, mobility and security of "thin," centrally managed wireless architectures but eliminates the cost, capacity limitations and performance bottlenecks that WLAN controllers bring, said David Flynn, CEO of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which also has operations in China.

"We offer a cleaner network architecture that's easier to deploy and at a lower cost," Flynn said.

Flynn is one of several NetScreen alumni to join the management team of the venture capital-funded company, which has been operating in stealth mode since its launch in early 2006. Others include Aerohive co-founder Changming Liu, who serves as CTO and vice president of engineering; Stephen Philip, senior director of marketing; Adam Conway, director of product management; and James Wright, director of sales.

Rounding out the Aerohive management team is co-founder Gavin Zhu, general manager of China operations. The company is also recruiting to fill the position of worldwide vice president of sales, Flynn said.

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Flynn said Aerohive's management team is drawing on its experience at channel-friendly NetScreen to build its partner strategy, which includes plans to fulfill 100 percent of sales through the channel, supplemented by a direct-touch sales force. The company already has a handful of solution providers on board and has established a formal, value-based partner program that includes deal registration, he said.

Aerohive's NetScreen heritage is one factor that attracted Stuart Brainerd, president of Chicago-based solution provider Synapse Networks, to sign on with the vendor and build a wireless practice around its technology. Another was Aerohive's controllerless architecture, which Brainerd said will help lower deployment costs. "Some of the architecture issues of having to place controllers in a distributed environment have been very difficult for other vendors to handle cost-effectively," he said.

That could become a key issue as customers prepare for the arrival of WLAN gear based on the 802.11n high-speed wireless network, since Aerohive customers will be able to deploy its upcoming 802.11n access points without having to add or upgrade controllers, Brainerd said.

Aerohive's product line includes a family of what it calls "cooperative control" access points. The first model to be released is the HiveAP 20 ag, which supports 802.11a/b/g. The lineup also includes the HiveManager Network Management System Appliance, an optional box that provides centralized provisioning, configuration and monitoring.

In a nod to earlier WLAN architectures based on autonomous, "fat" access points, Aerohive has built intelligence into its HiveAP access points and eliminated the need for each of those access points to connect back to a centralized switch for control.

But unlike traditional, stand-alone access points, Aerohive's access points work as a "hive," or a group of access points that discover each other, work together via mesh networking, automate RF management and support full-state roaming and best-path routing. If one goes down, the others can pick up the slack so users don't lose connectivity, Flynn said.

As a startup, Aerohive will face the challenge of having to prove itself against established rivals like Cisco Systems.

"It will be a hard sell. Cisco has a loyal base and a large share of the WLAN market," Brainerd said.

Nevertheless, he said he sees a solid opportunity for Synapse Networks -- which also partners with Juniper Networks -- to work with Aerohive technology. "Our accounts are willing to use technology outside of Cisco for their solutions," he said.

Aerohive's controllerless architecture could create a strong opportunity for channel partners as customers prepare to upgrade stand-alone access points that are several years old.

"We're a better upgrade to Cisco than Cisco is," Flynn said, referring the installed base of Cisco Aironet fat access points that comprised the core of Cisco's wireless strategy until it acquired WLAN switch startup Airespace in March 2005.

Cisco customers can upgrade their WLANs by swapping out their old Aironet access points for new HiveAPs without having to change their network topologies to accommodate WLAN switches, he added.

HiveAP 20 ag and HiveManager, available now, carry starting prices of $995 and $4,995 respectively.