Aruba on Team-Ups, Upgrades, and Draft-N Hype

By Eric Griffith

June 20, 2006

Aruba goes on a rampage of announcements with new features, new partners stemming from old, and some very preliminary plans for 802.11n support.

Sunnyvale, California-based Aruba Networks this week announced new features, new partners, and future plans including a look at how it will handle enterprise 802.11n when the time comes.

First, the features: look for more users to get secure connections as the ArubaOS Mobility Software gets an upgrade to support as many at 1,000 802.1X authentication requests per second. "Increasing the network density means more traffic hits the AAA server, and it can't keep up," says Keerti Melkote, Aruba co-founder and Vice President of Marketing. He claims some systems can handle only five to ten such transactions per second. This new AAA FastConnect will integrate with existing RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service) and AAA (authentication, authorization and accounting) services. Further, a new RADIUS over IPSec protocol makes sure the authentication transaction is encrypted from end to end.

The company is also changing the way Virtual LANs (VLANs) are done. Instead of basing a VLAN on a location, the VLANs are placed in a centrally configured pool. "Each VLAN is available at every controller on the network," says Melkote.

Other new features in the ArubaOS include self-configuring the mobility controllers shipped to branch offices or telecommuter households— it plugs in, finds a link to the central controller, and then all the policies it needs are downloaded. The scale of the local controllers to the master has gone from about 64 up to 700.

In the world of new partners, Aruba added Zerowire Technologies as a Solution Provider partner after the company had already installed Aruba Mobile Edge products in 22 hotels (with five more in the works). Aruba will do joint marketing with Nomadix to also target the hospitality industry (along with apartments and public hotspots) to use Aruba controllers and Nomadix gateways. The two already power marine wireless provider BroadbandXpress's efforts around Lake Union, bordering downtown Seattle. BroadbandXpress has about 70 marinas and ports online in the Pacific Northwest.

The latest partner is Juniper Networks, though it's not really all that new. Juniper bought out Funk Software in November 2005. Funk, a leading player in the RADIUS/802.1X authentication business, was an Aruba partner. Aruba is now a part of Juniper's J-Partner Solutions Alliances program. They will jointly sell and market each other's equipment.

"We're extending the relationship we had with Funk... we're adding on to our Mobility Controller the ability to talk with the Juniper firewall/VPN (virtual private network) products," says Melkote. The first customer using both products will be the McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, but Melkote says the real target market is the federal government. Both sets of products have FIPS 140-2 certification. With the lift by the Department of Defense on its "no wireless" policy, he thinks the time is right. "This is a significant market opportunity," he says.

Maybe the biggest news from Aruba is what they're not doing. Don't expect to see anything with the term 802.11n or even Draft-N from the enterprise supplier before the high-speed wireless specification is much closer to ratification. They want to "tell the market that the technology is being hyped prematurely," says Melkote. "There's a need to get it right... you can't take pre-standard equipment and put it in the enterprise. You need reliability. It's a real problem we'll be working on."

They'll be working on that problem with Ruckus Wireless. While that company continues to concentrate most of its efforts on providing wireless IPTV solutions to carriers, this isn't the first time Ruckus has brought its MIMO/BeamFlex technology — which can sit atop almost any Wi-Fi chip — to market. It powered one of the first MIMO products out from Netgear when Ruckus was still called Video 54.

Bill Kish, CTO at Ruckus, says, "What most don't realize with 11n is it will be a step backward in stability. They [the standards committee] are concentrating on techniques like spatial multiplexing and using 40MHz channels to get high throughput, but it will introduce instability. We'll continue, as we did with 802.11g, to guarantee a level of throughput that’s much more stable, [with] no fluctuations from interference."

Ruckus and Aruba both say they have engineers talking now about how to best implement 11n with Aruba controllers and Mobility Points.

This is a preemptive strike at other enterprise WLAN equipment suppliers who may be preparing to release so-called 802.11n products sooner rather than later, much as the consumer market has seen over the last couple of months. Melkote just says not to believe the hype: "Don't think our competitors are future-proofed."

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