Cisco recently announced another Wireless architecture – Cisco Mobility Express – to close a gap in the market where they were under pressure from HP Enterprise/Aruba.
Mobility Express essentially integrates the Wireless LAN Controller (WLC) function directly into a new range of access points (1850/1830). In a nutshell, this means you can now deploy Cisco APs in a retail store or a small office without a dedicated WLC appliance.
Cisco’s multiple press and blog releases about Mobility Express claim the product can deploy Enterprise & Guest WLANs in ‘under 10 minutes’.
Why did Cisco release it now?
Cisco’s main WLAN competitor, Aruba (now part of HP Enterprise), has taken a big chunk of market share with Aruba Instant, whose main selling point is simplicity. Aruba Instant also offers controller-less enterprise Wi-Fi deployment. Both solutions directly target customers looking for an easy-to-deploy WiFi solution, such as retail and education.
How does this fit with Cisco’s other WLAN architectures?
Cisco already offers 5 types of WLAN architectures:
– The legacy Autonomous model, which was Cisco’s first 802.11 offering, following the Aironet acquisition in 1999. This architecture is still very popular (20% of sold Cisco APs are autonomous). In this mode, APs are all managed independently.
– Centralized, which is still by far the most popular deployment mode. It followed the Airespace acquisition in 2005. In this mode, the APs are managed by a centralized WLC (centralized control plane), and all wireless traffic is tunneled from the APs back to the WLC (centralized data plane).
– FlexConnect, targeted at remote offices and branches where local APs, while still managed by a remote WLC (centralized control plane), are responsible for forwarding the traffic to the destination (distributed data plane).
– Cloud Networking (i.e. Meraki) where APs are controlled by a cloud-based controller. Cisco acquired Meraki in 2012. It also provides centralized control plane (from the cloud) and distributed data plane.
– Converged Access (where wireless LAN controller functions are integrated directly into access switches, such as Catalyst 3650 and Catalyst 3850). Released in 2013. As far as I know, while the switches sell well, there has been little adoption of their wireless controller capabilities.
On paper (I have yet to test it), the Mobility Express solution takes a few good aspects from each architecture: the simplicity and friendly user interface from Meraki; the intelligence and features of Centralized (Radio Resource Management, Deep Packet Inspection, Single Point of Management); the distributed data plane architecture of FlexConnect; and the ease of deployment of Autonomous mode, which I expect Mobility Express will eventually replace.
Doesn’t Mobility Express target the same market as Meraki?
Yes, and the Cisco Meraki range has had great success in this area. But many customers do not want a cloud-managed solution and would like to keep some control in-house.
What will it mean for the Enterprise WLAN market?
I look forward to seeing Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Wired/Wireless LAN next year. The trend for Cisco over the past three years has been backwards in its ‘completeness of vision’ and they are at risk of exiting the ‘Leaders’ quadrant altogether. HP/Aruba have gone clearly ahead (if not in market share, as Cisco still owns half of the Enterprise Wireless market).
Cisco probably lost points for not integrating the Meraki and Cisco product lines and for the lack of adoption of its Converged Access range.
Will Cisco’s Mobility Express help close the gap? Will HP demonstrate it can integrate Aruba’s product range into a consistent portfolio? Will a third party stand out? We’ll have to wait and see!
*Disclosure: I used to work for Cisco