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New Aruba products blend Wi-Fi, wired access at network edge

John Cox, Network World | March 15, 2011
The company that helped pioneer the controller-based enterprise wireless LAN is now selling wired Ethernet switches -- with a twist.

Finally, the new AP-175 is Aruba's first outdoor 802.11n product, in a 2x2 MIMO configuration.

Part of Aruba's intent in this announcement is to bring a new level of intelligence about clients to the corporate network, in order to deal with an authorized user who may connect at different times via a wired or wireless connection, and with different devices, such as a corporate laptop or a personal Wi-Fi tablet.

"Users no longer sit at a desk, and servers are no longer near a user's [wired] desktop, but virtualized and remote," says Keerti Melkote, Aruba founder and chief technology officer. "Today, the LAN needs to be able to handle mobile clients and cloud-based servers."

One resulting impact, Melkote says, is that fewer access ports are needed in wiring closet switches. That's where the new Aruba S3500 switches come in. The Aruba switches can handle today's clients, factoring in user identity, the specific device and its location.

"When you refresh the wiring closet, replace that [conventional] switch with ours: It enables 802.1X authentication, it confirms the user is in fact who he claims to be, and it knows what policies to apply," Melkote says. "The switch knows who you are even if your MAC and IP addresses change. The network will let you in, and apply the appropriate policies, regardless of how you connect to it."

The "device fingerprinting" technology in the new ArubaOS 6.1 firmware is part of this capability. It's being used, with the new S3500 switch, in a beta test at Boston Medical Center, a 639-bed academic medical center in Boston's South End, and an Aruba customer.

"We're starting to see a big push for 'bring your own device' to work. It's mainly driven by the iPad: The doctors love it," says Lee Cullivan, manager, data/voice/security networks at BMC.

Cullivan can tell these iPad users to connect to the BMC wireless LAN using their existing Active Directory password. Currently, network access is based on being matched with a database of valid MAC addresses, and the doctor-owned iPads are not part of the database. But now, with the 6.1 release, the Aruba switch can identify the unauthorized device as "this is an iPad" and then, through a setup portal, provision the tablet with a specific set of permissions and privileges, including the use an iOS version of Citrix Receiver, which gives the iPad user access to a set of corporate applications.

BMC had already been evaluating Amigopod for handling guest access to the hospital's WLAN, when Aruba acquired the company. The appliance plugs into the network and then automatically connects to an Aruba controller. A guest user trying to log in is given a log-in screen in a Web browser. "Amigopod gives us more options for administering this registration process," Cullivan says.


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