Linux Scrapes PC Out of WLAN Equation

By Matthew Peretz

April 09, 2002

At least that's the radical solution posed by open source warriors at Musenki Solutions. They're bringing Linux-based, high-security solutions to the 802.11 market. Find out how.

April 15th will be an important day for Musenki Solutions' founder Jim Thompson, and not because it is a tax filing deadline. Jim Thompson, and his co-founder Kem McClelland, will remember April 15th as the day that they shipped the beta of their Linux-based, WLAN access point (AP) solutions.

The broadly predicted move towards the use of Linux in embedded devices and mobile solutions was initially covered in my colleague Michael Hall's article entitled "WiFi and the Penguin: Setting Up 802.11b Under Linux," which was published in January, 2002.

In November, 2000, McClelland and Thompson founded Musenki Solutions to bring Linux into the 802.11 market - for many of the same reasons that Linux is typically popular amongst developers and solutions providers: It's smaller, cheaper, and more flexible than any other option. As open-source software, it is a given that the firmware in the Musenki APs and whatever other solutions they develop will be freely available to all users.

Founder Jim Thompson succinctly stated the mission of Musenki when he said, "We are trying to basically scrape the PC out of the equation." What this means essentially is that instead of all or most of the WLAN management and control functionality being based in the PC to which the AP is connected, the burden is shifted entirely, or almost entirely, to the AP. Thus taking the PC out of the equation and not only increasing efficiency but profoundly diminishing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). According to Thompson, the AP can easily fit the Linux kernel. The company is building in an abundance of memory as well as using a speedy processor.

The Musenki solutions could easily be called Access Platforms instead of Access Points. The solutions can be single or multiple slot designs, with varying degrees of added support, which can include things like backhaul technologies, wireless by-pass, wireless bridges, and wireless VoIP phones. The design supports all current and future standards-based 802.11 solutions, according to Musenki. It uses a Motorola MPC8245/MPC8241 PowerPC based processor.

Software is based on the Open Source Linux 2.4 code base, and the solutions support a variety of network protocols and security features, including 802.1x, VPN/IPSEC, stateful firewall, integrated NAT, and a critically important SIM smart card slot to enable two-factor authentication with Musenki security solutions. The units also feature multiple wired and wireless connectivity options and 32MB memory expandable to 128MB.

The Musenki M-1 solution is their single-slot design with a miniPCI card slot, and uses the 200MHz MPC8241 processor. The Musenki M-3 solution is a three slot design, with one PCI and two miniPCI slots per AP. It runs the 266MHz MPC8245 processor.

Both units feature the Smart Card technology, which just may be Musenki's ace-in-the-hole when it comes to differentiating itself in the market maelstrom. The company claims that the use of tamper-resistant Smart Card technology, along with their other solutions, can provide financial-grade security to Enterprise, ISP, and Public Access users. The use of these Subscriber Identification Module(SIM) Smart Cards is what Musenki is building its security features around, and the solutions also incorporate 802.1x authentication, L2TP, and support for external AAA protocols including RADIUS and DIAMETER.

The open-source nature of the code also enables vendors to layer all sorts of custom access-control and security solutions onto the units, according to Thompson. Musenki stated that it already has channel partners prepared to offer additional authentication, authorization, and accounting applications (AAA) tailored towards the needs of specific vertical markets.

Musenki solutions are targeted towards OEMs, system integrators, ISVs, and channel partners. The beta solution is set to ship next Monday, before or after taxes.

Matthew Peretz is Managing Editor of

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