Hewlett Packard and Meru Networks announced plans to support OpenFlow on their wireless LAN access points.
HP Networking didn't disclose what its plans are with OpenFlow on its Wi-Fi infrastructure. It described the move as a future-proofing measure that offers customers investment protection when demand for OpenFlow on access points (APs) materializes.
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According to Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group, Hewlett-Packard (HP) wanted to assure customers that, regardless of which use cases emerge for OpenFlow, they will be supported by all HP Networking gear.
Meru cited specific uses cases for its OpenFlow support: to improve unified management of wired and wireless networks, and the establishment of service-level agreements for Wi-FI infrastructure.
OpenFlow support does not enable an SDN controller to take complete control of wireless APs. The protocol is not designed to facilitate radio-frequency management, for instance. However, OpenFlow can simplify policy management and traffic engineering on a wireless network.
"Some of the impetus for early OpenFlow research was around mobility," said Andre Kindness, principal analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "When you cross subnets [on a wireless LAN], you can't keep getting new IP addresses, so [mobile clients] have to tunnel back to their original AP. And the AP would have to tunnel back to the controller. It becomes a mess. You can't deal with latency and you don't have a direct path to the user."
With OpenFlow support on wireless LAN APs, an SDN controller can track mobile clients on the wireless LAN and manage the wired and wireless networks together. It can choose the best path for packets moving across the wired and wireless network, Kindness said.
"With OpenFlow, you don't manage radio frequency. You manage the packets going to the APs and all the policies around it. You can have just one big SSID [Service Set Identifier]," Kindness said. "My only question is about setting up authentication and encryption, because OpenFlow doesn't have that in there."
In January, the Open Networking Foundation, the organization that controls OpenFlow development, announced a new Wireless and Mobile Working Group. The group is studying uses cases for OpenFlow in both cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks. One use case the group proposed is the use of OpenFlow to coordinate network access control across both wired and wireless networks using 802.1x.