Latest AirWave Unifies Wireless, Wired and Mobile Control

By Lisa Phifer

January 11, 2010

Aruba expands AirWave 7's reach to deliver unified management of Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and mobile devices.

Historically, wireless LAN management systems have been isolated from their wired counterparts, relying upon loose integration techniques like trap forwarding and console cut-through. Wireless-to-wired event correlation and trouble resolution are often labor-intensive, politically sensitive processes, plagued by inefficiencies and finger-pointing.

But as WLANs become an essential part of enterprise networks, this approach no longer suffices. "If a problem interferes with one of our mission-critical applications, our users don't care whether the cause is the device's firmware, the wireless AP's signal or a down switch – they just want it fixed," said Greg Catalano, Senior Network Engineer at Boise, Inc.

To bring wired and wireless management together under one unified umbrella, Aruba Networks today announced a major expansion to AirWave 7, a heretofore heterogeneous WLAN management system. "We wanted to stop the bickering that so many of our customers say they experience," said Bryan Wargo, General Manager of Aruba's AirWave division.

"Our customers told us they really needed a unified view of switches, controllers, APs, and mobile devices, along with one push configuration for changes that span all of those devices. So we created AirWave 7 to make the world a better place [for network administrators and users] by offering a central source of consolidated information."

Blurring the Boundaries

Traditional (wired) LAN management systems are not designed with mobility in mind. "They are too port-centric and they lack end to end visibility," said Wargo. "Customers complain they have 75 different trouble-shooting tools that are all information silos."

AirWave 7 will simplify trouble resolution in integrated wired/wireless networks by providing broader visibility and faster root cause analysis, no matter which kind of device is at fault. In addition to managing APs and controllers from all major WLAN manufacturers, the AirWave Management Platform (AMP) will now also manage edge Ethernet switches from Cisco and HP. AMP reaches those switches via SNMP; the supported device list will be expanded over time, based on customer needs.

When AirWave 7 ships in March 2010, all customers with support contracts will receive these new AMP features at no additional cost. However, don't look for Aruba to sell AirWave as a pure-play wired network management system (NMS). "Our goal is to support switch management in context with interconnected wireless devices," said Wargo. "Our wired management is going to play more of a supporting role in networks that have both technologies."

Expanding the Edge

Another common administrator complaint, said Wargo, is visibility and control that end at the edge switch or AP. "Think about retail stores that need to manage all the way down to the device level," said Wargo. "When they make configuration changes to their WLAN, they want to make corresponding changes to Windows-based handheld computers."

AirWave's new Mobile Device Manager (MDM) plug-in for AMP will deliver this capability for business-critical wireless clients. Specifically, AirWave MDM supports three different categories of mobile devices: monitored, agentless, and agent-based.

  • Every device that associates to a WLAN is a monitored device, which means that AirWave MDM can report on current and past locations and connection history.
  • Selected devices offer agentless (SNMP MIB) interfaces that permit AirWave MDM monitoring of device attributes and remote firmware update.
  • Windows devices have the option of running an AirWave MDM agent to enable more comprehensive device management, remote control, and remote reboot.

But AirWave MDM's agentless interface device list is short in the first release: Honeywell Dolphin ruggedized mobile computers and Datamax-O'Neil wired and wireless printers. Wargo said that AirWave plans to expand that list incrementally over time, but emphasized that many devices of interest to customers can already be managed using the lightweight AirWave MDM Windows (32/64/Mobile) agent. AirWave MDM will be an optional, separately-priced add-on module for AMP.

Divvying Management Access

"If we were going to expand the scope of AirWave, we had to find-tune user interface access to deliver management views and features unique to each group," said Wargo. To that end, AirWave 7 adds customizable dashboards, making it possible for enterprises to give administrators with different roles to be given appropriately-limited visibility and commands.

"A large IT organization can have one platform but yet provide customized access, specific to job function," said Wargo. Help desk staff can be given tools for wired, wireless, and/or mobile device monitoring and visualization, depending upon their area of responsibility. Engineering can be given full centralized control over the entire network, while the Security Audit group might be given the ability to view configurations and generate reports.

Finally, humans will no longer be the only entities to consume AirWave 7's management information. This release includes a new XML API that enables software integration between AirWave 7 and other IT operations systems. For example, AirWave customer University of Cincinnati reportedly built an E911 application, using location data exported from AirWave via the new XML API.

Bottom Line

With this expansion, AirWave 7 becomes a more comprehensive network management system, with broader reach and greater flexibility. Of course, the devil will be in the details – this new release is still in beta test. However, AirWave 7 appears to be moving in a badly-needed direction.

"As WLAN deployments attain levels of reliability and control that rival wired networks, IDC expects a broader set of applications to be driven to wireless networks," said Abner Germanow, IDC's Director of Enterprise Communications Infrastructure. "Wireless performance then becomes mission-critical, and IT organizations need to assume control over all of the components that drive service quality, including wired infrastructure and client devices."

Lisa Phifer owns Core Competence, a consulting firm focused on business use of emerging network and security technologies. A 28-year industry veteran, Lisa enjoys helping companies large and small to assess, mitigate, and prevent Internet security threats through sound policies, effective technologies, best practices, and user education.

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