Aruba Catches the (Air)Wave

Despite the fact that the enterprise wireless LAN market is moving inexorably toward centralized management with “thin” access points (APs) at the network edge, there’s plenty — that is, millions — of so-called thick/fat APs out there. Companies embracing WLAN controllers/switches can’t change that overnight, much to the disappointment of some vendors.

And if you can’t beat them, join them.

“Customers purchasing thick APs are left on an island,” says Gary Singh, senior director of product marketing for Aruba Networks. “Our new solution gives them an upgrade path to not only a centralized architecture, but if they want to add applications they can’t currently support, new services, we come in with our combination solution to assist them.”

That combination solution? Matching Aruba controllers with the Airwave Management Platform (AMP, currently in version 4.2) from San Mateo, California-based AirWave Wireless.

Aruba’s goal is to support customers with legacy APs — from Cisco, Symbol, Proxim, Avaya, 3Com and many others — without having to do a “rip and replace” move to Aruba’s own thin APs. AMP’s software running on a server in their network center addresses the problem.

“It’s a single interface, with AMP as the console they turn to, to monitor the entire network infrastructure,” says AirWave COO Greg Murphy. “It gives IT one place to turn, one console.”

Aruba thin APs can actually be installed as an overlay option as well, providing some of the controller’s more advanced features, even if the APs are used only as sensors for intrusion detection/prevention, on up to applications like location or voice over IP/Wi-Fi.

Several other similar services, even from the thick AP vendors themselves, require turning thick APs into “dumb” thin APs. Singh calls this the “brain transplant” and stresses that this isn’t the case here, since the AirWave software will control the APs with the Aruba controller in the middle to handle things like voice, guest access services, policy management, etc.

“There’s lots of trending and analysis going on with thick APs, and this approach keeps that intact as well,” says Singh.

“AMP is a very compelling system for managing RF [radio frequency] deployments,” says Singh. “There’s no other company out there focusing like them on working with thick APs and with centralized architecture.” If you prefer the AMP interface, he adds that “AirWave can run the Aruba thin APs as well.”

The Aruba/AirWave combo is already in place with one big customer: Yale University. The school has had Cisco APs in place for years and is moving to Aruba’s platform, but will use AMP in the meantime to keep both systems running concurrently.

Current AirWave subscribers don’t have to pay extra for the ability to work with the Aruba controller; the features will be part of the next regular AMP upgrade. The AMP software generally costs about $5,000 to run 25 APs, and goes up to $35,000 for 1,000 APs and beyond for the largest enterprises.

“Aruba pays attention to customer needs,” says Murphy. “They want to manage a hardware lifestyle. Users need hardware to last three years or more — they spent a lot on existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, and the idea of swapping equipment every 18 months would make costs go up dramatically. This partnership will help minimize the overall lifetime cost.”

Murphy says AirWave will announce more original equipment manufacturer (OEM) relationships in coming months. They’ve already got deals integrating AMP with products from AirMagnet and HP’s ProCurve division.

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