Aruba Networks has extended its Wi-Fi controller family with three new models that can detect what applications users are running and then make network changes to optimize wireless traffic for specific applications.
The new Aruba 7200 series support more access points and users than previous models. The greater scalability, which also includes processing higher volumes of authentication requests and of encrypted packets, is intended to handle both the influx of mobile Wi-Fi devices and the expected impact of so-called gigabit Wi-Fi, as 802.11ac radios arrive for clients and access points starting in early 2013.
A new feature of the updated Aruba OS, called AppRF, gives the new controllers several techniques to identify specific traffic streams by application, such as Netflix video streaming or Salesforce.com transactions or VoIP.
For Web or cloud-based applications, AppRF can identify the traffic by its URL address. It uses a heuristic signature match to figure out specific protocols that mark Cisco Webex conferences or Microsoft Lync messaging or VoIP calls. Essentially, Aruba is extending the traffic identification and optimization it introduced previously for VoIP traffic.
Once the traffic has been identified, the Aruba WLAN can use an array of existing RF and quality of service features to optimize performance by application type and by user profile, according to Ozer Dondurmacioglu, director of product and solutions marketing for Aruba.
The new controllers, with built-in stateful firewall, are the Aruba 7210, for up to 512 access points and 16,000 users; the 7220, up to 1,024 access points and 24,000 users; and the 7240, for up to 2,048 access points and 32,000 users. The 1u rack mounted units can handle up to 40Gbps of encrypted traffic, and 2 million firewall sessions. They have redundant power supplies and are hot-swappable.
List pricing starts at $16,995; all three models are available now. Aruba says the new units can offer enterprise customers savings of up to 67% -- in big deployments -- compared to the previous controllers.
The products are evidence of an important shift in enterprise wireless LANs. For years, WLANs serviced a limited population of users who had been issued corporate laptops. Typically users carried the laptop from one place to another, but in both, sat down and worked as if they were at a desktop PC.
All this changed in 2007: the first iPhone triggered a still-growing surge of mobile devices, with users now having two, three or more personal Wi-Fi devices, and using them on the go for voice and video calls, streaming media and other demanding applications. And typically these are personally-owned devices.
WLAN infrastructures have to support many more connections, users, and traffic; they have to be able to adapt to both continuously streaming applications as well as those requiring frequent but brief updates, such as Facebook postings or tweets. Many applications may be making constant authentication requests, requiring the network's backend to be able to scale to handle this, notes Aruba's Dondurmacioglu.
In a recent survey of North American enterprises, Aruba found that 40% of respondents are replacing wired Ethernet ports with Wi-Fi, as the primary connection medium. Nearly one in four say they're replacing wired projectors in classrooms and conference rooms with Apple TV boxes that interconnect iPads and iPhones and Macs with flat panel TVs. An equal number say they're shifting from wired VoIP phones on the desktop to a Wi-Fi-based Unified Communications platform.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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