Meru's Service Assurance Manager Promises 'Proactive Troubleshooting'

"As the size of the networks is increasing, the operational complexity is many times sending people to look for tools on how to allow them to manage wireless better," said Rachna Ahlawat, Meru's vice president of marketing. "So for the channel, the shift is from selling networking to a services model. You don't have to do any detailed site survey. With the SAM, you can just look at the map and put in an access point like a light bulb."

The SAM adheres to an enterprise's existing wireless network and puts all of its access points on a "channel blanket" (that is, the same, single radio frequency). Using what Meru calls a "neighborhood watch," the platform examines wireless client connectivity, latency and performance throughput tests using virtual clients on each of those access points. It also provides reports on network activity, useful in audits or reporting on network performance.

Meru further explained the SAM in a post to its Signal2Noise blog.

"Many organizations do try to do dry runs of applications on wireless—usually, right before the network is deployed. They may gather a few laptops into a room, run some download scripts, and try to estimate how much work their network can do," the company wrote. "But once the network is live, the laptops are gone, and there is no more testing taking place. Instead, administrators only monitor the network, looking for changes in graphs and numbers and item counts, hoping to tease out some information on how the network might do. These techniques are all very reactive, and don't tell a thing on the night before a big meeting, for example, when the network will be used to its fullest."

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The SAM comes as a software upgrade, part of Meru's E(z)RF Wireless Operations Suite and integrated with Meru's Network Manager, available now through channel partners.

"It takes the guesswork out of managing the network," added Ahlawat.

Ahlawat said Meru is targeting enterprises in verticals like health care and education where enterprises are moving toward wireless and away from wired Ethernet networks. She said she expected recent advances in wireless, including the ratification of the 802.11n wireless standard, to continue that trend.

Andrew Borg, an analyst with Aberdeen Group, said that Aberdeen's recent research has shown there is an increase in costs as enterprises expand their wireless capabilities. Top-performing organizations surveyed doubled their WLAN coverage area, resulting in a 63 percent increase in the cost of managing the WLAN and a 69 percent increase in the number of employees required to support it, he said.

"If Meru can help reduce the costs associated with managing the enterprise network, it's going to be welcome news for CIOs and CFOs alike," Borg said in a statement.

The SAM will allow VARs to sell customers on the idea of saving time and money they'd otherwise spend locating problems in wireless networks, while also expanding the services they (VARs) can offer those customers.

"It brings big value to the client. Now our clients know more about their network proactively," said Bob McGowan, president of Converged Network Solutions, an Okemos, Mich.-based solution provider. "Most networks are looked at reactively, and for people who invest in networks on the front end, they often end up with a cornucopia of stuff because each department's budget dictates what it buys and it's all of a sudden just 'here, make it work.'

"What comes from there is ' the wireless is down, the wireless is down, the wireless is down,'" he added. "Well, maybe it is because of one thing, or another, or maybe the chipsets in one area are past the point when they should have been replaced. Now you know. With this, we're not spending time and money troubleshooting ghosts."

McGowan said that even though Meru's "not a household name," it continues to impress him both with products and channel support. For enterprise wireless deployments, Converged Network Solutions has sold Meru products exclusively for two years, he said.

"We used to sell Cisco, Nortel, Trapeze, but when we saw the Meru stuff, it became religion for us," he said. "You look at the maintenance costs, how well it performs, and it just pays for itself. To give you an example, we've had a number of K-12 customers, some of whom were ready to buy Cisco, so we asked them to just try out the Meru stuff and see how they liked it. All of them went to the Meru solution. Every school system we've put it in has raved about it."