Wireless LAN is beginning to look a lot more wired

Aruba's new 7200 controller series suggests a shift of the wireless LAN to operate

It’s the holiday season and soon we’ll all hear the Bing Crosby or Perry Como song "It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas" over and over again. You can tell it’s looking like Christmas, at least in Massachusetts. The malls are over-crowded; I have bags of ice melt in the garage; the usual rudeness you see on the roadways has been escalated; I have pine needles all over my house and the Patriots are running rough shot over the rest of the AFC East (you poor Jets fans).

Well, the same thing is happening with wireless LAN, as it’s starting to look a lot more like wired. Over the past few years or so we’ve seen better failover times with controllers, better connection resiliency, and today Aruba announced the first wireless LAN platform with optimized application delivery.

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What do Katy Perry and Aruba Networks have in common?

Aruba’s new 7200 controller series with the "AppRF" technology uses some deep-packet inspection technology to identify specific application traffic. Then, through the use of Airtime Fairness and QoS, the controller can optimize the performance of the applications over the air. The AppRF technology also provides a nice graphical interface to give better visibility over the mix of traffic running over the WLAN. It’s important to note that AppRF isn’t just categorizing the traditional corporate applications, but many BYOD-type applications such as Box, GoToMeeting, etc. This type of visibility and optimization technology has been part of the wired switch feature set for a while, but never available with wireless. The new controllers have been significantly beefed up to better handle traffic inspection, QoS, voice and video.

This shift of wireless to look and act more like wired is crucial to the growth of WLAN. There’s so much chatter in the industry about the “all-wireless” access edge, but the truth is that, in general, the wireless experience is terrible in highly dense or bandwidth-intensive environments. Just last week I was in Cancun at a conference and the wireless experience was so bad that I gave up trying to access for a while. I actually tethered off my iPhone and was willing to pay the international roaming rates (I know all of you must feel sorry for me in Cancun with no ability to work). If wireless is indeed going to become more than a network of convenience, then the WLAN infrastructure must transform as well. Otherwise we’ll all have CxOs and line-of-business managers screaming at the IT departments because the multi-million-dollar mobile application project that no one can use has become a bust.

It was good to see Aruba not just optimize traffic but provide better visibility tools. I’ve always felt that one of the keys to successfully running a network is to "know the network." It’s been my experience that less than a third of companies truly understand what traffic is running on the network, and even fewer understand when it comes to wireless. Now, factor in BYOD, which has made application deployment and usage the Wild West, and the problem gets worse.

Aruba’s AppRF and upgraded 7200 series controllers should be well received by Aruba customers and can enable a much better wireless experience than what most people have been accustomed to. This should be a continuing theme for wireless moving into the new year.

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