All these questions ignore the fact that traditional controller-less (or distributed) architectures also continue to sell quite well. Aerohive and Proxim have centralised management and mesh capability but are otherwise fully-distributed architectures. Cisco's Aironet product family, augmented by the fundamental enhancements implemented in their Wireless LAN Solution Engine (WLSE) controller is, at its heart, based on traditional APs.
All of the companies mentioned in this column report strong sales and that they are taking advantage of the fundamental expansion of the WLAN industry. The knee in the hockey-stick demand curve has apparently arrived, perhaps thanks to 802.11n, and system architecture remains perhaps the primary differentiator for buyers.
It's important to point out, however, that wireless-LAN architectures can only be truly evaluated by their real-world behaviour in specific installations, and this is where things get complex. Benchmarking WLANs is difficult because of the fundamentally statistical nature of radio itself. Large-scale tests are not feasible, and reproducible benchmark results are usually not possible.
Moreover, current benchmark applications often don't represent the reality that needs to be modelled before the big installation takes place, although Veriwave's WiMix (no relation to WiMax) tool looks interesting. Nonetheless, the fundamental complexity of measuring real-world performance will keep the architectural debate going, with theoretical arguments playing a major role in purchasing decisions.
Craig J. Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specialising in wireless networking and mobile computing. He can be reached at [email protected] This article first appeared in Computerworld.