Aruba Arrives with WLAN Switching

Despite having been around for over a year, San Jose, CA-based Aruba Networks went public this week with information about its venture capital-backed company and its patent-pending wireless LAN switch technology currently focused on the enterprise.

To get to this point, the company “took a look at Ethernet networks and how they evolved,” says Pankaj Manglik, Aruba Networks’ co-founder. “If you go back to the mid to late 80s, Ethernet was a departmental phenomenon. Synoptics [later Bay Networks, which was acquired by Nortel ] came up with the idea of a multi-port Ethernet hub, so people ran all the cubes and offices back to the Hub. Eventually you had a complete enterprise network.

“WLANs are today departmental level. There’s almost no enterprise wide WLANs. Microsoft and Cisco have done this, but that’s more of an ‘eat-your-own-dog-food’ approach than a customer thing. What needs to happen in the WLAN space today to actually deploy across enterprise is a box that looks like the multi-port Ethernet hub. We call it the WLAN switch.”

Aruba’s WLAN switching will combine monitoring and access with 1000Mbps (Gigabit) Ethernet switching for high speed networks. The system will detect rogue access points installed either maliciously by criminal hackers or thoughtlessly by employees and prevent users from accessing them by “locking the air.” The airwaves will be constantly monitored so rogue detection can be automated.

The system will provide a private connection for each wireless user by isolated individual user’s traffic. It authenticates each user via the client’s switched connection using standard authentication schemes like 802.1X. The stateful firewall will then follow that user even when mobile, making sure they only access appropriate resources on the network. It will use IPSec and the upcoming Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) for encryption.

The centralized architecture means that upgrades in security and other functions can be easily deployed. Unlike most of today’s access points, however, Aruba is leaving the units with just simple radio coverage, similar in a way to what Symbol Technologies is doing with its Mobius system of “access ports.”

Co-founder Keerti Melkote points out that the difference from Symbol is that Aruba does just “dumb down” the access point. The company adds monitoring to “give visibility in the air.” This visibility also means doing a site survey is automated (after the deployment, of course.)

Adding new access points is easy as the system will automatically detect them, as well detect as failed or congested units. When it does, it will dynamically reroute traffic as needed so there’s no loss in connectivity.

Aruba’s Switch products will work with Cisco access points or users can go with access points and “air monitors” from the company itself. Aruba products will be going into trials this week.

Symbol is not the only other company in the switched WLAN business. Other companies scheduled to release products in this area this year are Trapeze Networks and Black Storm Networks . Symbol will also be upgrading the Mobius line this year with a new switch that will run more than just the 24 “access ports” currently supported.

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