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Rollout: AirWave Suite Boosts Enterprise Features

AirWave Management Suite 6.2 sports new reporting flexibility and compliance capabilities, but it needs a more effective user interface.

Managing an enterprise-scale wireless network can be challenging, especially when mixing in the need for managing Payment Card Industry or other regulatory requirements. So when AirWave Wireless Management Suite 6.2 promises to tame the most complex of wireless environments and demonstrate compliance, we have to put that happy talk to the test.

AirWave is now part of Aruba Networks--one of the big guns in enterprise wireless LAN systems--but continues to support a wide range of competitors' systems. Aruba did well to not tamper with AirWave's multivendor support, but its anemic configuration support for Aruba hardware is vexing.

The features added in AirWave 6.2 reflect the growing importance placed on contemporary WLANs, and the product continues to improve as an enterprise-class solution to managing many vendors' wireless hardware sets, even when complicating factors like Payment Card Industry standards are thrown at them.

AirWave 6.2 effectively monitors the latest 802.11n hardware from the likes of Cisco, Meru Networks, and several others, but gets mixed grades on its ability to fully manage these systems. The list of supported systems is impressive, but some notables are left out--for example, Aerohive, Bluesocket, and Xirrus are not supported, and Colubris support will be dropped after this version. These omissions will pose challenges for mixed environments.

Devices that are supported will benefit nicely from version 6.2's many enhancements. PCI reporting and auditing are the crown jewels of this release. Other standout improvements include new help desk granularity, comprehensive and flexible reporting, and more effective handling of rogue devices. Version 6.2 also makes better use of the VisualRF location and mapping module.

We tested AirWave 6.2 on a mixture of production and test wireless hardware. We restricted it to monitor-only mode against production Cisco Lightweight Access Point Protocol and autonomous devices, but let it attempt to fully manage configurations in a test bed of the latest gear from Cisco and Aruba.

As with earlier versions of AirWave's suite, all hardware to be managed must be SNMP-discovered and then classified into groupings of your choice. This methodology shines in its flexibility: There are no constraints as with competing management systems.

Within a couple of hours, we had hundreds of devices pulled in and sorted, and were monitoring an enterprise WLAN environment. Configuring some devices is almost as simple, whether by template for multiple devices or directly on a single access point. For some hardware sets--like Aruba's--this suite isn't the best choice for configuration changes because there is no user interface for these functions. Until AirWave's interface catches up to the GUI available on the Aruba controllers, Aruba environments should use it only for monitoring.

Demystifying PCI
Where Payment Card Industry requirements are part of doing business, AirWave 6.2 serves as both coach and auditor, delivering easy-to-digest reports that have more intrinsic usability than that of competing management systems that we've worked with. The suite quickly tells you not only what specific elements of PCI demand, but how your WLAN stacks up against each.

Seven PCI bullet points are evaluated and reported, and the product does a nicer job of explaining PCI than many white papers do. Even if PCI compliance is overkill for your wireless space, the audit is beneficial for overall characterization of what could be tightened up across your WLANs.

Among the more subtle improvements in AirWave 6.2 are raw searches that span all stored data using simple text and now include rogue data, new triggers that kick off system alarms, and the ability to tie more information into on-board help desk incidents. AirWave 6.2 integrates with BMC's Remedy Help Desk System, but its stand-alone help desk functions will be useful even for AirWave newcomers. Policies are defined and assigned to devices, and deviation from those policies results in alarms.

AirWave 6.2 lists for $5,995 for a 25-device license, $27,495 for a 500-device license, and $84,995 for 2,500 devices. This is high for monitoring only, but it's competitive for monitoring and managing your hardware set.

Our Take
AIRWAVE WIRELESS MANAGEMENT SUITE 6.2
AirWave's Wireless Management Suite 6.2 offers reasonably good management for large environments.
 
Aruba wisely hasn't tweaked AirWave's vendor support roster. Still, it's puzzling that AirWave doesn't support more Aruba hardware configurations.
 
AirWave 6.2's updates make it a more effective tool for PCI compliance auditing and reporting.
 
The suite aims to push aside the likes of Cisco's Wireless Control System, but it's not a complete replacement.

Lee Badman is wireless/network engineer and adjunct instructor at Syracuse University.

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