Fixing Wi-Fi: Aruba’s New ClientMatch

Aruba announces their first 802.11ac access points – but, in this case, it’s not just about the radio.

We're expecting to see 802.11ac APs from all enterprise-class WLAN system vendors this year, and Interop was a great place to hear about specific vendor plans. I've been arguing for some time that the radio is only the beginning; when we talk about real performance in a .11ac world, it's important to think end-to-end in terms of capacity - wired, wireless, management, and especially real-time control. You can check out my recommendations for getting ready for 802.11ac here, but there's much more going on here. And there are still significant opportunities for innovation.

At its core, so to speak, 802.11 suffers from a fundamental flaw - roaming and related activities like load balancing are under the control of the client. In speaking with the designers of the DFWMAC (as it was known at the time) for 802.11, I learned that it was felt that such a client-centric strategy would be preferable as few sites would be purchasing access points. After all, APs sold for around US$2,500 at the time (mid-1990s), or about $1 billion or so in today's dollars - so it was assumed that most networks would be peer-based. Wrongo, in hindsight, of course, and very wrongo when one considers that the price/performance of electronic tech always improves, and quite dramatically - Moore's Law and all of that, just for starters. Fair access in the MAC was, however, a noble goal, as "fairness" continues to be an important objective today.

But we regardless ended up with an inappropriate-at-best protocol that makes any kind of deterministic, wire-like performance management a challenge. But there is hope - case in point, Aruba's new ClientMatch technology, a big part of their 802.11ac announcement today. You can read the details of this patented approach to dealing with association, sticky clients, load-balancing, and other related issues via the link above.

Aruba has been pioneering technologies to improve overall system-level performance for some time - their ARM 2.0 technology is quite well-known in this area, and they've also been discussing such facilities as Microsoft Lync traffic optimization and app optimization in general. Aruba is, of course, not alone here; I'm expecting system-level strategies for optimizing WLAN system capacity will accelerate as a competitive hotbed going forward. The bottom line is that it's no longer all about the radio; we're well beyond that now. System-level optimization is the new watchword in WLANs, with potentially enormous benefits for us end-users.

OK, I've been away for a while. Interop was absolutely jumping this year, with record attendance in some sessions (350+ people, violate-the-fire-codes, huge kind of records) and proof that wireless and mobile aren't boring yet. I've also been on the road shooting more videos, doing product testing, and, in general, enjoying one of the busiest years ever around here. I hope your year is going great as well - and I'll try to be a little more current in these pages going forward.

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