Meru packs diagnostic, security features into Wi-Fi management software

Meru Networks is adding new features to its enterprise Wi-Fi diagnostics, monitoring and security software, along with a new radio frequency scanner for spectrum analysis. The goal is to improve wireless reliability to the point where it can work as a network service, analogous to wired Ethernet.

Analyze this: Low-cost wireless spectrum analyzers do the trick

The new and updated applications run on the Meru Service Appliance, a stand-alone server that runs Meru's E(z)RF Network Manager and other related applications. The appliance collects a range of data from Meru access points, storing it in a common database where it's used by the higher-level management applications.

The features are part of a continuing consolidation of technologies into the wireless LAN fabric, says consultant and Network World blogger Craig Mathias. "…[W]hat's going on, as evidenced by Meru's announcement, is more than just keeping up with the Joneses. It's the fundamental requirement to provide a complete, one-stop-shopping solution for customers who no longer have the time or budget, let alone the staff and skills, to custom-assemble a solution from pieces and parts."

The new scanner is the Proactive Spectrum Manager (PSM) 3X, a receive-only, dual-band radio scanner, with a companion analysis application, E(z)RF Spectrum Manager. The radio picks up wireless signals from a wide range of devices, including cordless phones and Bluetooth devices. The software analyzes the signal to identify and, with other Meru software, locate the source of interfering or unauthorized radios.

The reliance on a hardware scanner goes against the grain of other Wi-Fi network vendors, which typically rely on software-based analyzers that glean signal information by taking over an access point radio and switching it to scan mode. Meru executives say their hardware-based solution doesn't shut down the Wi-Fi data operations for users, or cause interference when one of the two radios in an access point is scanning. And PSM creates much more detailed data about the RF environment.

Cisco recently unveiled an 802.11n radio chip with spectrum analysis built-in for a new generation of access points.  Similarly, Aruba Networks introduced a software spectrum analyzer integrated with its 802.11n infrastructure.

E(z)RF Spectrum Manager and the PSM3X scanner will ship in the fourth quarter of 2010. The software is priced at $1,995, and the scanner at $1,295.

Meru also is introducing a wireless intrusion detection/prevention application, with monitoring and verification capabilities, to detect unauthorized Wi-Fi access points. The new WIPS software counters such threats as denial-of-service attacks, password cracking and physical layer attacks. The release is in beta test, and will ship in the third quarter. For a network of up to 50 access points, the price will be $5,995.

Another application now in beta test is Compliance Manager, which continually and automatically checks the Wi-Fi network's security policies and events against a set of best practices and policies for the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard  2.0. The new application will be used to manage credit card data for retail operations and monitor, audit and enforce security policies around them.

Compliance Manager will be available in the fourth quarter. Pricing is not yet announced.

Finally, Meru has struck a deal to run the Ethernet network management software from SolarWinds on the Meru management appliance. Network administrators will have a common management console for troubleshooting Wi-Fi network problems across wireless and wireline connections. The SolarWinds integration will be available in June. The price is based on SolarWinds' pricing model.

Meru recently went public, one of the few independent WLAN start-ups to do so in a market where Cisco consistently controls about two-thirds of both the consumer and enterprise Wi-Fi markets.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

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