Aruba Networks Inc. has combined its cloud management platform -- Aruba Central -- with a new series of Instant access points to deliver a survivable, cloud-managed Wi-Fi offering for distributed enterprises and smaller branch office locations. The new Aruba Instant access points are self-organized and led by one "master" access point equipped with controller functionality.
Some enterprises have been skeptical of deploying a cloud-based network, under the assumption that while simple to use and cost-effective to deploy, cloud management tools can compromise network performance and reliability. As cloud applications and services have become more prevalent, IT has become more open to using the cloud for critical functions, said Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
Cloud-based network: Don't sacrifice performance and reliability
A cloud-based network can especially appeal to enterprises with small branch locations, educational institutions and midmarket companies, thanks to its remote management capabilities. However, many cloud Wi-Fi offerings ship with consumer-grade access points with a cloud-managed interface, forcing enterprises to trade functions and features for convenience, said Sylvia Hooks, director of product marketing for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Aruba.
"While the interface is appealing, the quality of cloud-based Wi-Fi has not been up to the degree that enterprises need to run their business-critical networks," she said.
Cloud-based networks also require a degree of survivability in case they lose contact with the cloud-based control element. "When functions are put in the cloud, the business is depending on that WAN link for full functionality, but if you can't reach the cloud, you can't reach [certain functions] like the management console, user authentication and application awareness," Hooks said.
The Aruba cloud Wi-Fi offering consists of Aruba Central, the vendor's Software as a Service-based management console that has been fortified with a new version of Aruba Instant OS. Aruba Central works with the new Instant 155 wireless and wired access point and the new Instant 220 series 802.11ac wireless access point. Aruba's cloud Wi-Fi offering allows fully functional sustainability in the case of WAN link failure and offers redundant wired uplinks, as well as fast failover VPN links, Hooks said. Aruba Central is hosted at multiple locations with multiple providers globally for high availability at all times, she said.
Aruba has also expanded its switching portfolio with the new Aruba S1500 Mobility Access Switch for cloud Wi-Fi environments.
Aruba Instant now lets customers deploy a single architecture across both controller-based and cloud-based Wi-Fi deployments. "If enterprises want to stay with a controller in their headquarters, it can make it harder to roll out cloud Wi-Fi in their branch offices because [cloud and controller architectures] have had to be managed separately," Hooks said. Aruba Central can bridge that gap and give IT one point of management for their entire organization.
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Bangor Public Schools in Michigan had Aruba's controller-based wireless LAN installed across its three schools, one community education center and one district office. The district recently upgraded its infrastructure to Aruba's Instant wireless access points to save on costs, as well as to address the survivability issue the district was running into with their single controllers at each location, said Kevin Snyder, director of technology for Bangor Public Schools. "We didn't like the idea that if a single controller ever had a problem, the entire network shut down in that building," he said.
Snyder and his team began beta testing Aruba's cloud Wi-Fi offering following the upgrade. "If one of the access point clusters goes down, the [control] defaults back to another access point, so at no point will we lose functionality," he said. "Students still have the ability to work on the Wi-Fi because our access points are not reliant on their connection to a controller."
Snyder's team previously used Aruba's AirWave console to manage the network. He said Aruba Central has a familiar management interface, which has made the change to a cloud-managed Wi-Fi environment easier. The new cloud-based console also offers deeper management features, Snyder said. "We can track down client IDs and find devices that might be a problem, and shut it down to free that bandwidth back up," he said.
Wi-Fi management: Mixing controller, cloud-based Wi-Fi architectures
Having a single point of management for controller-based and cloud-based Wi-Fi environments can be appealing to some enterprises -- especially smaller businesses with leaner IT resources. But not every enterprise will want to manage their controller-based network in the same way cloud-based, remote locations would be managed, IDC's Mehra said.
While Aruba is unique in its single management architecture, other vendors are still offering separate Wi-Fi management options -- like Cisco's controller-based management platform and its disparate Meraki cloud Wi-Fi management offering.
"Not every IT department wants to mix controller- and non-controller-based topologies," Mehra said. "IT has to ask what their needs are and what their users are trying to do."