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Black Box SmartPath moves wireless LAN management to the cloud, creating resilient, controller-less networks
Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA, June 15, 2011 — Black Box Corporation (NASDAQ:BBOX), a leading communications system integrator dedicated to designing, sourcing, implementing and maintaining today’s complete communications solutions, announced today the launch of SmartPath™ Enterprise Wireless, a new type of 802.11n technology that moves WLAN management to the cloud and simplifies upgrades to next-generation Wi-Fi communications.

Offering reliability and throughput that rivals that of wired Ethernet networks, SmartPath Enterprise Wireless, brings best-in-class management to wireless networks with any number of access points (APs). The system does not use any expensive WLAN controllers, and all APs can be managed from the cloud.

Customers simply purchase the APs they need and subscribe to Black Box’s on-line SmartPath Enterprise Management System (EMS) to manage their APs. “SmartPath removes the expensive controller from the buying process,” said Keith Ross, wireless product manager for Black Box. “Plus, with no controller hardware to install, configure, or patch, you can manage an entire wireless enterprise from anywhere. If the connection to the cloud is temporarily lost, the APs will continue to function on their own. No backup controllers are needed for redundancy.”

“Once plugged in, each SmartPath AP automatically joins the network and contacts the EMS in the cloud. Through the EMS system’s user-friendly GUI platform, an administrator can manage multiple APs in various locations, and apply group policies to certain APs or to all APs, simplifying new deployments encompassing many offices and Wi-Fi users”, Ross said.

Administrators also use the EMS to manage security settings. The SmartPath platform features a built-in firewall with virtual private networking (VPN) capabilities and supports full 802.1X authentication for secure access, as well as RADIUS with Active Directory, LDAP, Open Directory, and eDirectory integration. The on-line SmartPath EMS is hosted within secure Tier IV SAS 70 Type II data centers, with backups, disaster recovery capabilities, and 24/7 monitoring. In addition, Black Box offers free 24/7 hotline technical support with all calls answered in 30 seconds or less.

To keep data private and secure, none of the SmartPath customer’s traffic traverses the hosted EMS service’s network. Because it is hosted in the cloud, SmartPath EMS provides centralized management without being actively involved in passing traffic or making forwarding decisions. “This way, you get advanced management without creating the traffic bottlenecks seen with controller-based wireless solutions,” Ross said.

It is the intelligent, self-aware SmartPath APs themselves that perform all the sorting and sending of packets. This communication happens automatically with clusters of the APs “talking” to one another and using best-path data forwarding to ensure network availability and create a self-healing Wi-Fi network.

“The SmartPath architecture eliminates single points of failure and reduces traffic backhauling to the network core while offering businesses and schools a practical, cost-effective way to provide next-generation 802.11n wireless to their organizations”, Ross said.

“Again, because there are no expensive controllers required, you can scale the SmartPath system from a few APs to thousands of APs as funding becomes available to you,” Ross said. “For instance, you can start with several APs in your office or school this year and add additional ones when you have funding next year. Cloud-based management moves CAPEX to OPEX, so you can start small and grow as needed by purchasing a subscription for each AP you want to manage from the cloud. You never have to upgrade to a higher-capacity controller when it’s time to install more APs.”

Distributing the control and data plane also provides redundancy to the entire SmartPath system, Ross added. “To get the same level of wireless redundancy from other 802.11n enterprise solutions on the market, you have to not only buy the APs, but also spend tens of thousands of dollars for both primary and backup controllers—and then pay all the associated licensing fees year after year,” he said. “With SmartPath, there are no hidden upgrade costs, and the resiliency is built into the APs.”

Designed for seamless mobile user connectivity, SmartPath proactively tracks 802.11n laptops and smartphones moving from AP to AP. This provides continuous coverage for real-time voice or video applications without an interruption in Wi-Fi service or having to connect to and authenticate each new AP. Also, advanced circuitry and algorithms enable older 802.11a/b/g devices to share the network without slowing down 802.11n devices.

The system enables administrators to set up wireless network access by user and, using the built-in guest-management portal, restrict access by non-authenticated users. Companies and government offices, for instance, can provide safe, secure Internet access to visitors without exposing their internal, private network data to guests and outsiders.

SmartPath APs are available in two versions: an indoor model with built-in antennas and in a hardened/industrial version for use with external antennas or for mounting outdoors in a NEMA rated enclosure. The SmartPath EMS platform is offered in several versions: as a 1- or 3-year subscription to the cloud-based service, or as a rackmount appliance that can be installed on-site for controlling thousands of SmartPath APs.