Aruba Wireless Networks: A start-up to watch

These young vendors offer fresh approaches for addressing today's enterprise network challenges, from setting up secure wireless LANs to virtualizing data center resources.

Aruba illo

Aruba Wireless Networks

Company name: Founders wanted a one-word name that began with "A," could be easily pronounced by its polyglot staff and connoted "something pleasurable."

Origin: Founded in February 2002 by Pankaj Manglik and Keerti Melkote, who have senior management experience at Alteon WebSystems, Cisco, Nortel and Shasta Networks.

Funding: $9.5 million in one round closed in April 2002.

Investors: Matrix Partners and Sequoia Capital.

CEO: Pankaj Manglik.

Products: Unnamed wireless LAN switch and simplified access point for centralized security and management of wireless LAN packets and radios.

Aruba Wireless Networks likely will be the first start-up with a product that lets network executives run their wireless LANs as they do their wired ones.

Aruba's wireless LAN switch, in beta test now, is expected to ship by June. The switch sits in a wiring closet or data center, connected to a bunch of Aruba or third-party wireless access points. Users pass through an access point to the switch, which handles authentication, access policies and encryption, and creates a personal firewall for each user.

The San Jose company has neither released a name nor pricing for its wireless LAN switch. But it has said the switch is aimed at corporate sites that need to deploy scores or hundreds of access points, serving hundreds or thousands of users. Instead of a collection of separately installed and managed access points, the wireless LAN becomes a web of streamlined radios controlled by a switch that incorporates the features of a VPNfirewall and intrusion-detection system. Beta testers include MFS Financial and Sentinel Real Estate.

The company also is targeting the public access, or wireless hot spot, market where service providers plan to deploy wireless LANs to create broadband VPN access for corporate road warriors.

Problems with securing wireless networks are so acute, and the opportunities so enormous, that a crowd of vendors is racing to bring out similar products. Among them are other start-ups such as Airespace (formerly BlackStorm Networks), AirFlow Networks, Trapeze Networks and Vivato; established wireless LAN players such as Proxim and Symbol Technologies; and wireless security gateway vendors like Bluesocket, Cranite Systems, Fortress Technologies and Vernier Networks. Some observers expect some of the big network vendors such as Cisco and Nortel to play in this field, too.

Only as these products emerge will the distinctions among all these players become clear. For its part, Aruba is stressing comprehensive security features, such as the ability to monitor radio transmissions and to detect and block rogue access points. The company also is touting automated features that simplify deployment costs, such as the switch's ability to detect and configure new access points, and continuously adjust radio power levels and channel assignments.

How the market shakes out remains to be seen, too. Certainly network equipment vendors such as Cisco have switching expertise, but marrying switch and radio technology is as complicated for them as for the start-ups. And so far, Cisco says it favors a distributed network of intelligent access devices. Aruba might have many sunny days ahead.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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