Nexus at Aruba Airheads Conference in Macau

I recently attended the APJ Aruba Airheads Conference in Macau. This was a gathering of WiFi aficionados and ethusiasts to discuss all things 802.11 and beyond. Present were many of the top engineers from Aruba HQ in Sunnyvale California; they detailed their latest cutting edge product offerings and offered insights into some pretty compelling advancements in the existing suite.

802.11ac is the big news in wireless at the moment and the term ‘Gigabit WiFi’ is being used in conjunction with it often. Wave 1 of 802.11ac offers throughput of up to 1.3Gbps with 3×3 MIMO APs like the Aruba 225. I got the chance to get up close and personal with this sleek bit of kit as all WiFi access at the conference was hosted on them. 802.11ac end-user devices are not yet omnipresent but some pretty big hitters like Apple and Samsung already have AC in some of their devices (Galaxy S4, MacBook Air etc.) and a key consideration is that the APs are fully backwards compatible supporting 802.11g, 802.11n etc. Also the processor and antenna design have been revised to provide significant performance boost to none ac clients so you will see results straight away.

ClientMatch is the technology that impressed me the most with it’s ability to place clients on the most suitable AP based on multiple factors giving the user a tangibly better WiFi experience. For instance iPhone are notoriously sticky clients as Apple have configured the OS not to actively seek a new AP until signal quality is relatively poor. This is to save on battery as the scan for a new access point is a battery intensive operation; the drawback is that clients will stay connected to an AP on a low bit-rate when there are more suitable APs closer by offering a better experience. ClientMatch resolves this problem. It is crucial feature to gain the most out of Aruba 225 access points but the beauty is that it is fully compatible with all other Aruba APs and controllers in the current range and will be available in 6.3 of the Aruba OS which is currently available on beta and will be on general release shortly.

Apps are king in the smart phone and tablet world and in the last few years Aruba have started to offer solutions to different problems around this space. AppRF will be available in version 6.4 of the Aruba OS and offers integrated visibility and control directly on the controller over apps like SharePoint and Salesforce. This advanced app level QoS empowers you to make sure your wireless bandwidth is getting to the right places. There are also APIs for Microsoft Lync to amongst other things provide real time reporting on voice and call metrics and Lync aware RF management e.g. Aruba Adaptive Radio Management (ARM) will not switch a channel an AP using mid Lync call to ensure the quality of the call remains high.

Aruba ClearPass is a virtual appliance that lets you create and enforce policies that extend across the network to devices and applications. It Is something I have implemented previously for a number of our clients to provide sophisticated and highly customised guest WiFi authentication workflows via captive portal as well as staff authentication via RADIUS with Active Directory.  Visitor Management is just one module of ClearPass though as it also does MDM (Mobile Device Management – OnBoard), MAM (Mobile Application Management- WorksSpace) and device health management (OnGuard), as well asproviding lots of other NAC (Network Access Control) functionality. It is basically complete end to end BYOD solution and I will be shortly implementing a PoC here at Nexus to test out some of the cool features I have not yet explored. I should point out that OnBoard and WorkSpace are currently only available for iOS but Android support is due to follow.

Instant has been around for a while now. It is a simple yet scalable wireless solution with no physical controller required as a lead access point acts as a virtual controller. It can be setup in literally a couple of minutes and administration is very intuitive, it’s an enterprise class WLAN with the ease of a home WiFi solution. It’s not the perfect fit for everyone; for instance the sys admin who wants to tweak their radio profiles to the finest detail is still going to be better going down the physical controller route, but in a lot of cases it’s a winning formula. No subscription is needed for Instant but if you have a requirement for rolling out and managing WiFi at lots of different sites then Aruba have a new cloud subscription based central management solution known as Aruba Central, perfect for branch sites with little infrastructure. I have just signed up to a one month eval of this service and will be having a play with a couple of spare APs I have knocking around the office, so maybe more on this in a later blog.

Aruba Activate is another new Instant related service being offered and is free of charge.  It is a zero touch roll-out process where an AP is pre-cofigured to connect back to Activate and pull configuration as soon as it is connected to the internet. This means none technical staff can easily deploy devices. A none too shabby idea if you ask me.

Location services are another hot topic in WiFi so the Arbua Location and Analytics Services presentation I attended was one of the most interesting. The opportunities to tie free wireless access in with other services are pretty much endless. Geofencing (contextually relevant info, offers triggered by location etc.), asset tracking (keeping an eye on expensive equipment, say in a hospital) and way finding (help customers get from A to B with a custom mobile app) are just a few. Aruba Networks have recently acquired Meridian to offer such a solution. Nexus have previously helped MCA implement a bespoke geofencing solution to allow their patrons access to exhibit information on their mobile device as they walk around the galleries and this works very well underpinned by custom radio profiles on the Aruba controller, but if I was to be involved in implementing this now Meridian would not be far from my thoughts.  ALE (Analytics and Location Engine) is a virtual appliance that works with Meridian to provide usage stats such as how long a client spends in a certain location or which order they visit areas in. This sort of information is great for assessing building layouts, which products, exhibits, attractions etc. are a success etc. It’s mobile intelligence at its best.

As you can see, WiFi and the related ecosystems are evolving quickly and Aruba are at the forefront of this. This event was a great way to keep abreast of these advancements. My only complaint about this congregation of air-geeks is that Aruba didn’t choose to hold it in … erm, Aruba. Right dodgy puns aside, I’m off to implement tip number 7 from the ’Top 10 Tips from TAC’ session. Maybe I should get out more.

Ed – this is by our very own wireless ( + storage + apps + more) guru, Dan Bowen, surfin’ Mancurian-Aussie engineer.  Small edits by SM, so any errors likely to be mine.  Aruba kindly paid Dan’s conference fee and accommodation, Nexus paid the airfares as an investment in making sure we are at the forefront of wireless and how it support BYoD and contemporary user computing.

Sean Murphy

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