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What acquisition scramble? Ruckus holds its own in WLAN market

Ruckus Wireless is pushing Wi-Fi technology into the enterprise despite steepened competition and WLAN market consolidation.

Ruckus Wireless -- one of a shrinking number of independent players in the wireless LAN (WLAN) market -- is staying scrappy and pushing its way into the enterprise space.

Even as its competitors get snapped up by mega-players, Ruckus is staying the course and releasing upgraded WLAN technology today that targets "forgotten" large companies.

"The term large enterprise is a misnomer," said Ruckus vice president of marketing David Callisch. "People think of Proctor & Gamble with 20 IT guys. There are a whole bunch of large companies like hotels, hospitals and schools that have lots of users and physical locations [and very small IT staffs]. That's what we're going after," he said.

The central piece of the new technology release is the ZoneDirector 3000 WLAN controller that manages up to 250 access points, up from the previous capacity of 50. The release also includes ZoneFlex software 7.0 to enable automatic configuration of WLAN access, which should ease implementation for companies with limited IT staff. There's also the FlexMaster centralized management system that runs a wide area network of controllers and access points, and a network performance measurement tool, SpeedFlex, that reports throughput speeds and debugs problems on the network.

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"We can do everything from a configuration standpoint through the ZoneDirector. Before you had to configure the access points and join the domain with the ZoneDirector," said Michael Gompers, president of Ruckus partner One Media Wireless. The access point software uses dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP), which places static IP addresses on them, making them recognizable by the controllers.

But it may take more than a technology upgrade for Ruckus to differentiate itself and prevail in the WLAN market as its competitors make big news being acquired by mega-companies.

Most recently Trapeze Networks was acquired by Belden Cable, which has thousands of channel partners worldwide. Ruckus' 450-member channel must now battle the Belden-Trapeze team.

Then there is the acquisition of Colubris by Hewlett-Packard (HP) ProCurve, which gives HP's tremendous channel (even bigger with the acquisition of EDS) much stronger wireless technology.

That's not to mention the massive WLAN market push by Cisco Systems since its 2006 acquisition of Airespace, and Motorola's initiative with its 2006 buy of Symbol Technologies.

Apparently it was the Trapeze deal that most rattled Ruckus. After the release of the news, Ruckus immediately launched an incentive plan to poach Trapeze partners, released an ad that read "Feeling Trap-ezed?" picturing a man stuck between one Trapeze and one Belden wall, and hit some partners with mail-outs that included bottles of liquor and shot glasses.

The good news for Ruckus is that some industry experts believe its formula of targeting understaffed, somewhat large companies with an easy-to-implement WLAN system is a good approach.

"The real battle [in the WLAN market] is in the management space," Farpoint Group founder Craig Mathias said. "It comes down to how easy is this to configure and when you have a problem, how easy is it to diagnose? Ruckus has a good lead here."

Matthias added that SpeedFlex could be more of a WLAN market differentiator than Ruckus even realizes.

"That will become a standard feature in products going forward," Mathias said.

Gompers isn't concerned about competition from larger WLAN companies, and he said Ruckus' allure is, in fact, that it is small and independent.

"It gives us more flexibility to have greater impact on the pipeline," Gompers said, adding that Ruckus' WLAN technology release includes some of his own direct requests, like the ease of configuration software upgrades.

It is not always helpful to the channel in the WLAN market when independent companies get sucked into huge players, Gompers said.

"A lot of those larger channels that those guys will be pulled into are so Cisco-centric. Cisco looks at wireless as an add-on, not as a strategic network decision," he added.

Meanwhile, Callisch did not completely put to rest the possibility of Ruckus joining the acquisition scramble.

"Nobody builds a company to get purchased but that's always a possibility," Callisch said.

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