NextHop: Specializing in Wi-Fi Switch Software

By Eric Griffith

February 14, 2005

The company's plan for the intellectual property acquired from the late Legra Systems is simple: make WLAN switch software any manufacturer can use for new hardware.

Legra Systems was one of the first victims of the ongoing consolidation of wireless LAN switch vendors. When the company folded, its intellectual property (IP) was sold to NextHop of Mountain View, Calif.—which also hired most of the Legra engineering team. The plan now: to sell the improved-upon Legra software to equipment companies that want to build WLAN appliances and switches.

NextHop already specialized in making the software tools for network routing and switching, so adding wireless was a natural move. Its NextHop Dynamic Network Architecture (DNA) includes everything needed for a fully functional network switch with wireless, including Layer 3 routing and Layer 2 switching. The new parts of the portfolio are the WLAN Controller Software (WCS) and software to run access points.

WCS will run on a Linux box for centralized management of the APs. It could be used on anything from a datacenter appliance to an application on a blade server in a larger chassis.

The AP software is using a pre-standard version of the Control and Provisioning of Wireless Access Points (CAPWAP) specification that is underway with the IETF. CAPWAP would provide a standard method of working with "thin" or "dumb" APs with little intelligence on the edge of the network, with all of the major tasks being handled by the central switch or controller. It replaces the expired LWAPP protocol, of which Legra was a supporter early on.

"The point here is that while chipsets are evolving rapidly, the state of the software standards are such that the chip guys can't build in all the functions on the silicon," says Dennis Tsu, vice president of marketing at NextHop. "There's still a lot of software needed on a switch or controller to provide network management capability." He says a company writing that from scratch will need 15 to 20 man years of effort, which could take the next 12 months. "We can give that to them pre-packaged, pre-canned, way less expensively than paying engineers," he concludes.

The NextHop solutions are geared directly to the ODMs, the original design manufacturers; they in turn provide designs for the original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, which build the product. Customers already using NextHop's GateD flagship software include Nortel, LG, Enterasys, 3Com, Check Point, Ericsson and many others. The company has not yet released names of ODMs that will be using the WCS. Tsu expects products to be shipping with WCS as soon as the third quarter of this year.

"The industry wants, over time, to get to a point of embedding WLAN functionality into all LAN networking gear that goes out there," says Tsu. "We want to work with the industry to make sure that happens."

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