Aruba WLAN technology: Building an intelligent 802.11ac Wi-Fi network

Aruba's new WLAN technology offers access point line, Lync visibility and ClientMatch software for a more intelligent, 802.11ac-enabled Wi-Fi network.

The continuing influx of devices and applications on the enterprise Wi-Fi network is creating new performance and prioritization needs, prompting wireless LAN vendors to think outside the box -- or the access point. In addition to purpose-built access points or plug-in modules to support Wi-Fi advances -- like the soon-to-be-ratified 802.11ac, or gigabyte Wi-Fi, standard -- enterprises need intelligent technology to address concerns about increasing wireless network capacity, visibility and reliability.

Aruba Networks Inc. recently introduced its Aruba wireless LAN (WLAN) 802.11ac technology, including its new 220 Series Access Point line, built-in Microsoft Lync visibility and ClientMatch offering -- software that enables mobile devices on 802.11ac and 802.11n Wi-Fi networks to connect to the nearest and least-congested access point.

The new portfolio is designed to provide bring your own device (BYOD) support for dense enterprise environments and greater application visibility, as well as to help IT overcome some fundamental limitations -- such as device-to-access-point connectivity -- associated with 802.11 Wi-Fi standards, said Craig Mathias, principal at the Ashland, Mass.-based Farpoint Group advisory firm.

Aruba WLAN for 802.11ac: Support and visibility for dense environments

Enterprises are shifting to a workplace that doesn't include wires to the desktop. The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard was designed with the next-generation office in mind and boasts faster speeds than the 802.11n standard has. Even though its speed ranges from 450Mbps to 1.3 Gbps, an 802.11ac-enabled network will perform no better than an 802.11n network unless there is a way to optimize the way devices and clients connect to it, said Manav Khurana, senior director for product and solutions marketing at Aruba. "Many enterprises want a fluid, open workplace where employees can roam and work freely, but WLAN technology issues … around capacity, sticky devices and unpredictable applications like voice and video … have been holding them back," he said.

Mobile devices and clients use algorithms to choose the appropriate access point for connection, but Aruba's ClientMatch software takes the decision away from the device, solving the "sticky client" issue for network administrators, Farpoint's Mathias said. "In 802.11, clients pick which access points they want to associate with. [ClientMatch] is working around a limitation of the protocol," he said.

ClientMatch moves devices onto the best possible access point in the environment, typically the closest, but also the least busy, Aruba's Khurana said. Arista Networks, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based data center and cloud networking vendor, has been beta-testing components of the Aruba WLAN technology -- including the new access points and ClientMatch -- before rolling it out into its new all-wireless facility for 500-plus users, said Anshul Sadana, senior vice president of customer engineering at Arista.

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Sticky clients and roaming devices were a big issue for Arista, which has a 100% BYOD policy and allows users to bring as many devices into the workplace as they need. "This creates a problem for the IT infrastructure, but if we can identify and automate provisioning for these devices, then the concern goes down … and the user experience only goes up," Sadana said.

The new access points using ClientMatch provide a seamless transition to different access points as users roam around the office and work from different areas -- like the break room, Sadana said. "In testing, we have walked our devices around, and we haven't seen any drops or re-authentication needed from users," he said.

The new Aruba WLAN technology -- which will be available in June -- includes Aruba's new 220 access point line. The access points have been built to support the 802.11ac standard and can use legacy switching infrastructure, preventing enterprises from having to replace switches when they upgrade to the new standard. The access points also have two radios and a power-efficient mode for businesses to run the access points at slower speeds, Aruba's Khurana said.

The WLAN offerings will also be integrated with Microsoft Lync Server 2013. The integration gives IT increased visibility into encrypted Lync media streams -- like voice and video – so it can distinguish and prioritize latency-sensitive media streams.

802.11ac limitations require a smarter WLAN

The 802.11ac standard will accommodate a larger number of Wi-Fi-enabled devices and promises faster data transfer speeds, but it will still have limitations if network policies haven't been properly implemented, Farpoint's Mathias said.

The standard also will result in a significant increase in traffic, and that will introduce many parameters that will need to be adjusted in real time for optimal network performance. WLAN technology like ClientMatch promises to take the pressure off IT and help it build a smarter network.

"Enterprises will require a more intelligent network. … These little refinements, like [ClientMatch] are going to be a major competitive advantage moving forward," Mathias said. "We are going to see a lot of innovation above the radio and within the network from the WLAN vendors."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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