Day 2 of Wireless Field Day 2 kicked off with a double (4-hour) session at Aruba Networks. I’ve worked with Aruba a little bit in the past, but my experience with them was not as great as HP or Cisco. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to see a lot of them in the future, so I was excited to get to pick the brains of some of their brightest stars.
After raiding the continental breakfast table at the Aruba Executive Briefing Center, we were welcomed by Ozer Dondurmacioglu (@ozwifi), the Product Marketing Manager for Aruba. He gave us a quick overview of the layout of the room, with the all important Wi-Fi instructions and directions to the bathroom. We were then greeted by Keerti Melkote, one of the founders of Aruba and the current Chief Strategy Officer. Here’s a link to his 1 hour talk about the shift of the market to a primarily Wi-Fi driven environment:
Of course, he’s spot on with a lot of these dissections of the current wireless landscape. I’ve seen many of my customers moving away from using cables as the primary network connection method to being more free to move around. Wireless has gone from a cool thing to have in the conference room to a necessity of doing business, as I’m constantly reminded when the wireless around here doesn’t work. One of the other things that I’m pleased to see that Aruba is “getting” is that security in the wireless realm is integral to the medium. With all of these bits flying around over our heads, trying to bolt on security after-the-fact is only going to lead to disaster. By ensuring that security is part and parcel from the very beginning, Aruba is making a long step toward ensuring end-to-end security is integrated.
After the first presenter, Ozer treated us to an interactive game of “How Big Of An Airhead Are You?” Named after the Aruba Airhead’s community site, this little trivia game was a great way to poke some fun at people while at the same time keeping us interacting during the long session. It doesn’t hurt that the prize for getting the questions right was an Aruba Instant AP-135. We all had a good laugh or two and moved on to the second presenter.
We were treated to a discussion about BYOD from Aruba from a couple of the AirWave product managers, Carlos Gomez and Cameron Esdaile. These two Aussie gents gave us a great talk about the need for things like self-service captive portal registration for wireless connectivity as well as the ability to push settings to devices to restrict access to resources. A lot of the development around BYOD restrictions and control seems to be aimed at iOS devices from the Cupertino Fruit, Computer, and Tablet Company. I don’t know if this speaks to the popularity of those devices or the ease with which the Mobile Device Management (MDM) APIs are available. In fact, the majority of the time I ask about having a similar feature set on Android, the response is usually “Soon…”. I’m waiting for the day when Android reaches parity with that other mobile device OS. Another round of HBOAAAY followed and more AP-135s were handed out.
The final session was centered around the Aruba Instant AP itself. I was a little curious about the reasoning. Why concentrate on something designed for such a small deployment base. Thankfully, Pradeep Iyer was ready to bring the good stuff and showed me why Aruba Instant is such an interesting technology. It turns out that a lot of thought went into the development of Aruba Instant, from the ability to connect to a setup SSID after unboxing so no cables are needed, to the design of the GUI for management and configuration of Aruba Instant. I’m going to take a moment to talk about this because I think people are finally starting to realize that running your GUI in Java or Flash is a “bad thing”. The Aruba Instant GUI is coded entirely in HTML5. That means it can be rendered on any modern browser, including Mobile Safari. The boxes containing information in the GUI also dynamically adjust to fit screen width without scroll bars, because according to Pradeep “scrollbars are evil” (he’s right). They also do some ingenious things like making the default language of the GUI dependent on the system language of the laptop that launched it. Strikingly brilliant in hindsight, I think. The graphs on the pages are also drawn with a logarithmic scale, so you don’t have random high spikes making the rest of your graph about .01 mm tall. Great thinking there as well.
Blake Krone from the NSA Show podcast must have gotten bored with our GUI love because he swung the conversation toward radio frequency (RF). At the forefront of conversation was the ability of Aruba APs to do in-band spectrum analysis with their Atheros chipsets. Historically, APs couldn’t serve clients and do spectrum analysis at the same time. Cisco’s solution to this problem was to buy Cognio and integrate their spectrum analysis chips into the 3500/3600 APs as CleanAir. Aruba says that they can now do the same thing without a dedicated chip in their APs. This does run counter to what I (and many others) have always been told, so it will be interesting to see how this feature works out. RF discussions are always interesting because they technology they are based on changes so rapidly that having a similar talk even just six months ago would have resulted in vastly different answers. After the final presentation, we heard from Ozer one last time and were give an Aruba RAP-2WG, a small AP the size of a deck of cards. This one functions more like a business card for Aruba. Since it requires an Aruba controller to operate, this one is attached to a development controller at Aruba’s headquarters. When you hook it up, it generates an SSID that you join. When you try to go to the web, the request is redirected to an Aruba splash page that tells you all about the Aruba wireless offerings. You can still do some web surfing and Internet access from it, but you can’t reconfigure it unless you have an Aruba wireless controller. A pretty neat idea, and it definitely beats all the USB drives I seem to collect at trade shows.
If you’d like to learn more about Aruba, you can check out their website at http://www.arubanetworks.com. You can also follow them on Twitter as @ArubaNetworks. You can also head over to their Airheads Community site and interact with lots of Aruba users, customers, and employees. You can find the Airheads at http://community.arubanetworks.com.
Aruba has some interesting products that seem to be transitioning to some new user-friendly GUI designs, both from the Instant AP and controller UIs to the ease with which the AmigoPod can help ease BYOD setup. I think that their attention to the little details that we all see when we manage networks and seem to complain about (but never bother to give feedback to fix) will help them ease those that are looking to move up from a consumer-grade wireless vendor or make a jump from another enterprise solution. It became clear to me during this presentation that Aruba is firmly in the number two slot when it comes to challenging for the crown of wireless. The question is whether or not they can make gains on Cisco while the rest of the pack catches up to them.
Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer
Aruba was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me with an Aruba Instant AP-135 access point, an Aruba RAP-2WG access point, an Aruba polo shirt, and an Aruba pen. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.