Aerohive offers gateway for Apple's Bonjour as free virtual appliance

The enterprise Wi-Fi vendor previously sold the device-discovery feature only in access points

Wireless LAN vendor Aerohive is set to offer its gateway for Apple's Bonjour device discovery protocol as free software on Monday.

Aerohive introduced the Bonjour Gateway feature in March on all its Wi-Fi access points. It brings Apple's Bonjour protocol from homes into enterprises by allowing it to operate on routed networks, across different subnets or virtual LANs, said Joel Vincent, Aerohive's director of product marketing. The benefit to users is being able to find IT resources, such as printers or file servers, from their iPads and iPhones, he said.

Bonjour has a growing role in enterprises as they implement "bring your own device" policies and let employees use iPads and iPhones in the office. Aerohive isn't the only wireless LAN vendor trying to adapt the system to workplaces. In late March, Aruba followed Aerohive's announcement with its own technology, called AirGroup, and Wi-Fi giant Cisco Systems also jumped into the fray with a Bonjour gateway announcement in July.

Until now, enterprises had to buy at least one Aerohive access point to serve as the hardware for the company's gateway, Vincent said. Getting users of its rivals' Wi-Fi networks to buy a single AP didn't really benefit Aerohive, so the company decided to make the Bonjour Gateway available as a free VMware virtual appliance, he said.

Bonjour is Apple's mechanism for mobile clients and other devices and services to find each other automatically on a wireless LAN, through a process called zero-configuration networking. It forms the basis of Apple's AirPlay and AirPrint features. Once a printer, Apple TV or other resource pops up on the screen of a device such as an iPhone or iPad, the user can choose it and start to exchange data across the network. Bonjour is designed for use on home networks where the only router is the one connecting the LAN to the Internet, where users aren't looking for local resources.

Enterprises pose a challenge for Bonjour, because their more complex networks mean that the nearest printer may only be accessible through a router, Vincent said. Making the protocol work over such a network can require complex configurations to prevent problems with Bonjour traffic. Aerohive's gateway software learns about all the resources and services across all virtual LANs and takes over the task of telling mobile devices where to find them. Once the client has a resource's address, they can exchange packets as they normally would.

The Bonjour Gateway also lets administrators filter what types of resources on the network can be found with Bonjour, Vincent said. For example, a company could limit the capability to printers, he said.

As a virtual appliance, the Bonjour Gateway runs on a VMware virtual machine. The standalone software can't deliver certain capabilities that are available with an Aerohive network, such as defining access to network resources per user, Vincent said. But Aerohive isn't just offering the software as a lure to new Wi-Fi LAN customers, though the company hopes to make contact with some potential customers after they sign up to download the gateway, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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