WLAN AP reviews: Aruba instant access points

Aruba's series of IAP-225 access points promises quick provisioning and quick configuration, analyst Craig Mathias writes.

Editor's Note: With Wave 1 of the Gigabit Wi-Fi standard 802.11ac ratified and 802.11ac access points hitting the market, our cut-to-the-chase product reviews are designed to help you decide whether it's time to upgrade your WLAN APs and which features are most important in your organization. Click HERE for our WLAN 802.11ac buying overview designed to help you kick off your buying process.

Aruba Networks is one of the largest and best-known suppliers of enterprise-grade wireless LANs (WLANs), and its Instant line is designed to attract SMB customers that might not need a full-blown controller-based WLAN foundation. As inferred by the name, Instant is designed for rapid deployment, but an access point (AP) with the capabilities, performance and reliability of an enterprise-class WLAN.

Notable features: The IAP-225 features internal antennas (a version with external antennas, the IAP-224, is also available) and dual radios, each 3x3 multiple-input multiple-output. One of the radios is locked to the 2.4 GHz band and provides up to 600 Mbps (via a proprietary mode called TurboQAM as similarly-equipped clients; 802.11n 3x3 is limited to 450 Mbps), and a 5 GHz radio supporting 802.11ac up to 1.3 Gbps. Dual Ethernet ports are included, and a variety of mounting options are also available.

The real beauty of Aruba’s Instant product line is that users can get rolling with a single unit.

The IAP-225 AP is powered via an external 12-volt source, or via 802.3af or .3at power. Some functionality is degraded with .3af, however, including a reduction in 2.4 GHz peak performance. In addition, using .3af disables the USB and second Ethernet port. In these cases, we recommend using 802.3at power or an external supply. We used a .3at power injector for our tests.

What makes it special: The real beauty of Aruba’s instant access points product line is that users can get rolling with a single unit -- managed locally via the built-in InstantOS Console (GUI and command-line interface). Customers can then upgrade to the cloud-based Aruba Central management or even to Aruba’s very comprehensive AirWave console. No local controller is required, but you can update Instant APs in the field to work with Aruba controllers should network demands so dictate. This architecture thus preserves an investment that can begin with a single AP.

Getting operational is very straightforward, although the included Quick Start Guide can be a little confusing for users unfamiliar with Aruba products. But all that's really required is to power on the AP (making sure it's connected to the rest of the network, of course), and then connect to it wirelessly via the "instant" SSID that appears by default. From here, the next step is to add your own SSID, set security keys and add other parameters. Once you set up your own SSID, the default "instant" disappears, and you're operational.

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The last word: If you desire, you can configure and customize the AP as needed -- this is, after all, an enterprise-class product. Features like VLANs, intrusion detection, usage monitoring and other capabilities are standard. Aruba Central, which offers more comprehensive services and is likely the choice for larger configurations, is an extra-cost option. An extensive documentation library is available to answer all your questions.

Up to 128 Instant APs (there are several others in the portfolio) are supported per deployment and, again, upgrading to a controller-based network is always an option. But with only minor functional differences between the Instant and controller-based products, many SMBs will be more than content sticking with the cloud-based convenience of the Instant access points for years to come.

List price: $1,295, with a free 30-day Aruba Central evaluation included.

This was first published in May 2014

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