Software defined networking looks set to take enterprise networks to a whole new level of customizability, thanks to the way SDN can ease the building and deployment of network applications. Enterprises will need a way to get and deploy those apps, though, a need that Apple-esque app stores are well-suited to address. Today, 802.11ac Wi-Fi vendor Meru Networks announced plans to apply the app store concept to Meru WLANs in virtualized or software defined networks.
Wi-Fi and SDN apps over the WLAN via the Meru App Store
Central to Meru's effort to put the SDN spin on the WLAN market is the cloud-hosted Meru App Store. In similar fashion to HP's SDN App Store, launched last month, and to the iTunes and Google Play stores that have inspired enterprise app store efforts, the Meru App Store will make available a variety of Wi-Fi and SDN network applications, both from Meru and from as-yet-unannounced third parties leveraging open standards for application development.
Among the two SDN-enabled network applications the Meru App Store will offer at launch is the Meru Collaborator for Microsoft Lync. This offering creates another parallel with the HP App Store, which features the HP Network Optimizer for Microsoft Lync.
Some consider Lync the killer app for SDN, thanks to the way that SDN can improve Lync performance on the network. Meru Collaborator for Microsoft Lync "enables end-to-end monitoring and policy implementation to ensure a consistently high quality of experience," according to the Meru Networks statement announcing the Meru App Store and Meru Center.
In the opinion of Manish Rai, VP of marketing at Meru Networks, the Meru Lync SDN offering goes beyond HP's in some significant ways.
"Unified Communications is taking off big-time, and the prospect of an app that can have a wired infrastructure from one vendor, wireless from another, with a wired phone that supports Lync and a wireless device making a call, and be able to troubleshoot problems, get visibility, and prioritize the flows for this application is pretty enticing for people," Rai said, adding that "HP hasn't talked about a multi-vendor environment. We designed Meru Collaborator from day one to be wired or wireless and vendor-agnostic."
Meru's other initial SDN offering will be Meru Personal Bonjour, a similarly vendor-agnostic, OpenFlow-based SDN network application designed to minimize Bonjour multicast flooding and direct Apple Bonjour advertisements to the correct users in order to reduce network congestion.
At launch, the Meru App Store will also feature four Meru-developed wireless networking applications. Three of them—Network Manager, which provides visibility and control of the WLAN; Spectrum Manager, which eases interference detection; and Service Assurance Manager, which provides continuous or on-demand application-level performance tests—are exclusive to Meru Wi-Fi gear. The fourth, Meru Connect, a BYOD onboarding and guest access application, is "a multivendor app that works over anyone's wired or wireless networks," Rai said.
Centralized Meru WLAN management and SDN app provisioning with Meru Center
The Meru App Store is part of the overall Meru Center centralized network application provisioning and management solution, a software platform that will serve as the app deployment hub in the Meru SDN WLAN vision.
According to Meru Networks, the Meru Center software platform "features single sign-on, seamless backup, application licensing, and comprehensive management capabilities for all Meru applications." As part of the application deployment process, Meru Center will automatically allocate and provision the resources that chosen apps need, easing the burden on network administrators and shortening the applications' time to value.
"Our vision is to make the consumption, deployment, and management of these network and SDN applications very easy. It's a platform that will include Wi-Fi applications that may be talking directly to Meru's Wi-Fi equipment and SDN applications that will be talking to whatever SDN controller the enterprise chooses to deploy," Rai said. Currently, Meru Networks supports OpenDaylight, and the SDN apps to be offered in the app store will work for any vendor equipment that supports OpenFlow.
Meru Center deployment options and general availability plans
The Meru Center, which the vendor is making available at no cost, can be deployed on the Meru Networks SA2000 Services Appliance, which was built for medium to large enterprises, or as a VMware offering. Meru Center will include the Meru App Store and 60-day free trials of Meru's Network Manager, Meru Connect, Service Assurance Manager, and Spectrum Manager. Meru Center will be generally available in Q4 of 2014.
Advances in mobile and wireless tech, the BYOD trend, and the continued growth of the enterprise WLAN market in 2014 make Wi-Fi networking solutions critical to watch. At the same time, the SDN revolution is changing expectations of what a network should be capable of (and what network administrators should be able to do with it). For those reasons, Meru's efforts to leverage SDN concepts to further the capabilities of enterprise wireless networks bear watching.
"Having OpenFlow support is of no use unless you can make it easy to consume applications. Meru Center makes it easy to consume those applications and realize the true potential of SDN," Rai said.