Aruba Open to Other Access Points

By Eric Griffith

March 10, 2005

Selling more switches is the goal as the vendor makes the boot code for managing access points available as 'open source' for any Wi-Fi hardware vendor.

A proprietary way of doing things gives you lots of control... but opening things up to others doesn't always hurt the bottom line. That's the feeling from Aruba Networks, which is announcing a certification program that hinges on letting other vendors make access points that work out of the box with Aruba's central switches.

The source code for Aruba's own APs—specifically, the BIOS-like boot code that loads at startup—is going to be made freely available to any product vendor that would like to download it and build it into their Wi-Fi hardware. Whether the AP is "fat" or "thin," when it boots and sees an Aruba switch on the network, it will load the code needed to be centrally managed.

Aruba says this will give the third-party APs all the functionality of an Aruba-built AP, such as acting as intrusion detection systems (IDS) or monitoring for radio frequency management.

These functions won't be limited just to new products. Vendors can also build the boot code into firmware upgrades for existing APs, turning older products into switch-capable monitoring devices overnight.

While the company is calling this open source, it's not all that "open." Don't expect your IT guys to download it and patch it onto your existing infrastructure—that upgrade would have to come in the form of firmware from the product vendor.

Also, third-party AP vendors can't modify the code to make changes or improvements in functionality. Aruba will remain in control of the actual "innovation curve," according to Keerti Melkote, co-founder and vice president of product marketing at Aruba.

Aruba is not expecting vendors to start throwing products into the channel with the code installed. They are expected to opt in to free interoperability testing with Aruba's switch. This is, after all, a certification program. So, while any vendor can download the software and try it on for size, they can't carry the Aruba logo without certification testing.

The code will work on any access point designed with Atheros Wi-Fi chips and Motorola Power PC CPUs.

The first companies to jump on the Aruba-compliant AP bandwagon are Netgear and Accton. Melkote says many of Taiwan-based Accton's enterprise-class 802.11a/b/g AP reference designs can use the code. Such designs are in use already by vendors like Nortel, Extreme and Foundry.

Aruba will be treating the third-party APs as their own for replacement and support, as long as the end-user customer buys an Aruba support contract.

At the same time, Aruba isn't getting out of the AP-making business. "The drive has always been to sell switches and software," says communications director David Callisch. "We've lowered AP prices, we've built them into the infrastructure, we're doing everything to make good [on that]." Third parties offering even cheaper versions of the same hardware will, they hope, lead to even more switch sales. The code won't add anything to the AP without the switch present for centralized management.

The source code will be available on March 14 via the open source site SourceForge. Vendors can also get a separate software developer's kit and get free support from Aruba via online forums and e-mail.



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