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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Aruba Debuts Bare-Bones Cloud WLAN

Aruba Networks is moving into cloud-managed WLAN, but the company's first offering skimps on management capabilities.

Aruba Networks is launching a cloud-based Wi-Fi management offering, including Aruba Central, its cloud management system. So how does Aruba stack up against Aerohive, Airtight and Cisco Meraki on the cloud front? So far, I’m intrigued but not impressed.

Cloud-based networking is becoming a more popular alternative to traditional premises-based management. This market gained a significant endorsement when Cisco purchased Meraki in late 2012. Thus, Aruba’s expansion into cloud-managed offerings is hardly a surprise.

However, I was quite surprised at how little Aruba gives with its initial offering when measured against the competition. Though the Aruba Central interface is simple and effective, it offers no guest access, floor plan imports, client onboarding or managed services.

It’s pretty spartan beyond basic wireless management and monitoring, and feels small branch-oriented and “first generation.” The problem is that the market has moved beyond first-generation cloud-based WLAN services.

[What kind of physical infrastructure will you need for 802.11ac? Get in on the debate with “802.11ac: 10Gig Uplinks Are Overkill.”]

I run a very large controller-based Cisco WLAN, several small Meraki managed-sites and Aerohive in my home office. I also have an Airtight AP in my lab. I’ve run Aruba controllers, APs and management in evals at different times through the years. I mention my own experience as the backdrop for my opinion on Aruba’s latest offering.

The message I took away from my briefing with Aruba may hint at why the company has released a bare-bones cloud offering. To paraphrase, I heard Aruba say, “Aruba Networks now has a cloud offering, but it’s so limited that we want you to focus on our APs that are 10x faster than the competitors!” Let me explain.

Aruba Central works with the vendor’s controller-less Instant APs, including new Instant 155 model 802.11n AP and Instant 220 802.11ac AP. Aruba has published its own comparison of its cloud-managed access points versus those from Aerohive and Meraki. Surprise, surprise, Aruba “won” the testing, so it’s hard to get jazzed about the AP performance claims.

As someone who runs networks in the real world, I’d rather have middle-of-the-pack APs and a solid, feature-rich management interface. Cloud-managed WLAN is frequently aimed at distributed sites where IT resources are thin, so a powerful, complete management framework is a must.

Today’s WLAN systems—especially at the level at which Aruba plays—are all about completeness of offering. Cloud solutions are no different, and what Aruba Central has a way to go before it can compete against more mature cloud-managed offerings in the market, and become a legitimate compliment to Aruba’s own on-premise options.

[There are lots of reasons users may experience poor connectivity, but the WLAN is always first to get the blame. Lee Badman delves into ways Wi-Fi admins can address these problems in his session “When Users Think Your Good WLAN Is Bad” at Interop New York. ]

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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