Aruba eases WiFi access point set-up

Wireless LAN vendor Aruba Networks announced this week its expanded "controller-less" Wi-Fi network, along with an Internet-based service that automatically sets up enterprise access points.

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Aruba unveiled the new version of the Aruba Instant Enterprise firmware, which borrows functions from the company's controller firmware and now includes them in the company's WLAN access points. It now supports Layer 3 roaming, and support for Apple AirPlay and AirPrint, which make use of Apple's zero-configuration protocol, Bonjour.

Brand new is Aruba Activate, an online service that works with the new controller-less OS. Aruba can ship access points to a specific corporate location, where they're unpacked and plugged in. The access point's firmware looks first for a DHCP server but reaches out automatically to the Aruba Activate service if one isn't available. It then downloads the pre-configured settings that the IT group creates on Aruba Activate. The vendor claims the new process can cut deployment time by up to 65%.

The announcements are part of a growing shift in enterprise WLAN architecture. First, to eliminate the separate hardware controllers that link access points to the network core; and second, to a growing array of secure Internet services to set up, run, manage and secure enterprise WLANs, instead of relying on software applications behind the corporate firewall.

The controller-less, or "distributed" wireless LAN model has found a niche through product offerings from Aerohive Networks and Meraki. Part of the appeal is lower capital and operating spending, and less network complexity, by eliminating the set of controllers that tie together and govern most WLANs. The controller functions are repackaged into network-aware access points, and sometimes into companion cloud services.

(A different take on WLAN architecture is that of Xirrus, which integrates switch and controller with up to 16 Wi-Fi radios in a single unit that's designed to cover large areas and handle lots of client devices.)

Aruba Instant's new features building on the existing ones, such as built-in spectrum analysis, and storing authentication credentials locally to ensure network access even if the WAN link goes down.

The support for Apple's Bonjour protocol is an acknowledgement of the huge influx of iPhones and iPads into corporate networks over the past three years. Bonjour is intended for simple, single-network discovery of resources like printers and Apple TV boxes. But the multicast protocol creates challenges for IT groups and Aruba is one of the WLAN vendors offering features that make Bonjour more manageable. (See "Petition to 'fix' Apple's Bonjour technology now online.")

Aruba controllers still offer several features not found in Aruba Instant: centralized VLAN and IP address management, encryption, and VPN termination, says Gerry Festa, senior director, product and solutions marketing, at Aruba. But Festa says there are no scaling limits for an Aruba Instant deployment, without controllers.

Aruba access points can be configured as either controller-based or controller-less. Existing access points can be upgraded with the new firmware, free of charge.

Both the new version of Aruba Instant Enterprise and the new Aruba Activate service are available now; both are free.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

Email: john_cox@nww.com

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