Xirrus came out and tried something new this morning for their inaugral session at Wireless Field Day (or any Tech Field Day event for that matter). First they gave a brief solutions overview with lots of stats. Typical deployments see 50%-75% fewer APs resulting in immediate tangible TCO reduction due to less cabling, lower installation, lower maintenance, and less power used. The arrays also feature a modular config allowing customers to add or upgrade radios as needed to stay current with evolving standards and reducing associated labor costs of replacing APs for brand new technology. Xirrus has a belief that one size does not fit all, something I think no one will argue, but they have the portfolio to back it up. With arrays ranging from low usage, low density deployments all the way up to highly dense, maximum capacity conventions center type deployments they’ve got something for everyone.
On the slightly technical side, they discussed how the arrays provide spectrum optimization via software programmable radios and reduce the amount of units required for deployment by utilizing as many channels as possible. For instance, a typical 5GHz deployment that uses all 21 available channels requires 21 radios and in turn 21 access points. The same deployment using a Xirrus array requires 3 units putting 7 channels on each array. On the controller and management side of the system you’re going to see something similar to other distributed architectures (e.g. Aerohive, Juniper, et. al.). Xirrus referred to their AP as a "switch with wifi ports" but intelligence is distributed in order to balance the processing load of the application control, configurations, radio/client management, and everything else that goes on behind the scenes. All of this scales linearly because as a new array is added it simply assimilates to the group and becomes another chunk of the collective brain. The application control is flexible and allows for predicatable performance per application and policy control to limit, prioritize, or block specific traffic/application types. With over 1200 different defined applications, it should be sufficient for most deployments.
Now we get to the "something new" Xirrus did. One of their customers, Optix Media, came onsite and gave us some examples of how Xirrus has been able to do to meet their requirements and solve problems that no other company could do successfully. Shane Moulton, the CTO of Optix, told us a bit about the WISP he is a part of and the some of the locations they’ve deployed in. Residential higher educational areas, cities, and ski resorts were all talked about and how each is a unique problem. Hotel and dorm wireless is typically a mess, overlapping networks and co-channel interference abound. Shane told us that for his company, Xirrus made sense because of the controllerless architecture, XMS management platform, quality of support, and levels of training provided to him and his staff. It wasn’t a technical presentation, but it was a customer reference with some real experience deploying to some difficult locations.
Finally they broke into the architecture and the room got chatty. Oh boy did it get chatty. Xirrus is a bit of a controversial vendor because of their unique arrays and claims about co-channel interference, specifically that their devices don’t cause any. To a room full of people who live and breathe real world deployments, "trust us" doesn’t fly. The conversation was civil but Xirrus had to cut it off due to time restrictions (look for them at Wireless Field Day 6 possibly, with their antenna team). There was a lot of focus on how specifically any of this is possible, this technology that flies in the face of the wealth of experience sitting in the room and the science that they use.
I think it was a great presentation of a product that I have had no experience with, I learned a lot about what they do and why they do it. Now we need to make sure they come back for Wireless Field Day 6 so we can get a lot more into the "how" of it all. Although I don’t think anyone has done a 180° change of heart, I applaud Xirrus for stepping into the fire opening a dialogue. That’s what Wireless Field Day is about; exposure to new products, new solutions, new vendors, and new technology in a (fairly) safe environment. It’s heart warming.
I’ll link through to the video as soon as it becomes available.