Gone are the days of simply providing good signal in the WLAN environment. Guest requirements, the new reality of the BYOD--or bring your own device--model and increasing reliance on the wireless network as a critical resource combine to make life complicated for us in the business of enterprise wireless networking. Aruba Networks is ready to answer the back-end challenges of contemporary wireless with its new ClearPass framework, and the impressive array of features is not limited to use by Aruba customers.
Sitting firmly at the No. 2 spot in the WLAN market behind Cisco, Aruba Networks has moved away somewhat from its beginnings as a pure-play wireless vendor. And like Cisco, Aruba is becoming adept at buying other companies to gain new offerings for its customers. As a result of recent purchases of Avenda (authorization and authentication) and Amigopod (guest services), we well as tight integration with its existing wireless controllers, Aruba has brewed what calls a total solution for wireless environment management. ClearPass addresses a number of wireless client management challenges, but its genesis is in the BYOD paradigm and all of the worries that come with it.
Existing Aruba customers and those shopping for a total WLAN solution will find ClearPass interesting, but so might other WLAN admins with no desire to move away from their current WLAN infrastructure. Though ClearPass comes from Aruba's developers, it was designed to be an easy add to any business-class wireless network, without requiring a lot of boxes or a mishmash of management windows.
Let's talk about what ClearPass does, which is impressive in scope. It's a RADIUS environment. It competes with the revered CloudPath Xpress Connect for 802.1x supplicant config. It horns in on the MDM market with mobile device management capabilities. It does network access control. And ClearPass provides guest access and management. Perhaps a better question would be, "What doesn't ClearPass do?"
Sized in what amounts to small, medium or large versions, ClearPass is available in appliance or virtualized form factors. Customers wanting all the functionality available can order a bundle, or can go a la carte with licensed modules for each major service. Where appropriate, ClearPass automatically turns knobs and manipulates settings in Aruba's controller-based firewall to deliver many of the security features. Non-Aruba wireless environments benefit from RADIUS-based VLAN steering in the wireless controllers to work the access control magic.
Given that my own large wireless environment is fairly typical and that we rely on four different vendors' solutions to achieve most of the same functionality that ClearPass promises, Aruba is likely on to something. The fact that taming BYOD was among the lead design criteria makes ClearPass that much more interesting. Mobile devices are easily onboarded to the network, classified for role and privilege, and assigned a policy that is enforced throughout the client session. Since many mobile devices are apt to be personally owned by both guests and employees, ClearPass provides a robust options set along with an effective, holistic approach.
Good stuff, ClearPass. But with its announcement, Aruba also has a message for those managing complex wireless environments today: What you think you know about supporting mobile devices in the WLAN world may not be enough. To fix that, a new training course that is claimed to be largely vendor neutral is also being introduced. The Aruba Certified Solutions Professional (ACSP) course is a multimodule, month-long training program that covers timely topics including RF challenges, design options, and how devices like iStuff and Android platforms of all sizes are changing the nature of the WLAN world. I'm not sure yet where this fits in with the likes of a Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE), but if Aruba's approach to training is as well-thought-out as its approach to WLAN solutions, it should have value.
Lee Badman has no relationship with Aruba Networks.Lee is a Wireless Network Architect for a large private university. He has also tought classes on networking, wireless network administration, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronic Warfare systems technician ... View Full Bio