Aruba succeeded where other Wi-Fi companies failed: A talk with the founder about the acquisition by HP, the future of Wi-Fi

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We talked about the all-wireless workplace and location services. Regarding voice traffic, we have invested quite a bit of energy ensuring optimal utilization. Ruckus focused on the antenna technology, while we are focused on the software that goes on top of the antenna. The analogy I’ll give you is, as you walk away from an access point I can boost my antenna power to give you a better signal, and that problem is a good problem to solve if you’re in a home because you only have one access point. But in the enterprise there is a collection of access points and the problem isn’t about holding onto a client for as long as possible, but to move the client to the best access point. So the trick is to enable the client to roam from one access point to another in a very efficient way. We call this technology ClientMatch. That is the core differentiator for us over the air, and we’ve specifically optimized it for voice by working with the Microsoft team to enable Lync and Skype for Business.

Security is a place we cannot be touched. We’ve had deep security expertise for a very long time. The DoD, three of the armed forces, most of the federal market actually, uses Aruba. I can’t get into all the details, but we have significant penetration because of our security depth. For enterprises that is a big deal. They really want to make sure the security side is well covered.

What’s the hot button in wireless security today?

We know how to encrypt. We know how to authenticate. Basically it is the threat of an unmanaged device coming into the network. We’re looking at solving that problem as a mobile security problem and we solved one part of it with access management, but we have this Adaptive Trust architecture which integrates with mobile device management tools -- VMware’s AirWatch, MobileIron, Microsoft’s Intune. We partner with those companies and the likes of Palo Alto Networks, and HP now brings its security and management platform ArcSight to the table. The idea is to secure the mobile edge so no matter where you are you have a secure connection back to the enterprise.

Let’s shift to the adoption of Gigabit Wi-Fi, or 802.11ac. How is that transition going?

The campus access network from your desktop to the closet has stagnated for a long time. That’s because there was really nothing driving the need for more than a gigabit’s worth of bandwidth to the desktop. Now with Gigabit Wi-Fi technologies the over the air rates are greater than if you were to connect to the wired LAN. So if you deploy Gigabit Wi-Fi and have signals going at 2G, let’s say, the wired line becomes a bottleneck. There is a technology called Smart Rate that HP Networking introduced for its switches which allows you to raise the data rates to 2.5Gbps and even 5Gbps. At that point your access points don’t have to contend with the bottleneck and can pick up the bits over the air and put them on the wire without dropping them.

So you need will need wired ports faster than a gigabit as you transition to this mobile workplace, but you won’t need as many ports as before. That is a transition, I think, that will happen over the next 2-3 years.

Did many people buy into Wave 1 of Gigabit Wi-Fi or did they hold off?

We’ve had tremendous success with Wave 1. The need for bandwidth is truly insatiable. And there is a ton of demand still yet to be put on the network. Video is a significant driver of bandwidth and most companies are throttling it video. So the more you open the pipe, the more capacity I think people will consume. Wave 1 has done very well. I think Wave 2 will continue to do well and then there’s .11ax which will take capacity even higher.

So people bought into Wave 1 even though Wave 2 requires them to replace hardware?

I tell customers, if you’re going to wait for the next best thing you’re going to wait forever, because there’s always going to be the next best thing on the horizon. So it’s really a question of where you are in your lifecycle for an investment. If the customer is at a point where they’ve had five years of investment and they’re hurting, it’s a good time. Wave 1 can actually solve a lot of problems. There’s no need to wait another 18 months for Wave 2 technology. You know you’re going to refresh that too in five years and there will be new technology at that point in time.

Will anybody buy anything but Wave 2 at this point?

It depends. Wave 1 technology you can buy today at multiple price points in the industry. Wave 2 is still at the very top end of the range. So if you’re looking for, let’s say, lighting up a retail store and you don’t need all the capacity of Wave 2, then Wave 1 will do just fine. That’s typical of most technologies, to start at the top and eventually work its way down. We’re right in the beginning of the Wave 2 transition.

How about in carpeted office space? Would you just drop Wave 2 into key points to satisfy demand?

Wi-Fi has always basically been single user. Only one user could speak on a wireless LAN at a time. With Wave 2 you can have multiple conversations at the same time; each access point can serve four streams. So that boosts capacity in a significant way and can also improve spectrum efficiency. For that reason alone, I think Wave 2 should be used pretty much anywhere you go. You could start with a high density zone and then work your way up. That’s typically how people do it, but I would encourage most customers to take advantage of this technology.

In the industry we’ve always used speed as a measure of the next generation of technology. Never have we given attention to efficiency. This is the first time where we’re saying efficiency gains are pretty significant.

And Wave 2 ultimately will be able to support up to eight streams, right?

Yes, the technology allows you to do eight streams, although it is not possible to pack eight antennas into the form factor at this point. But it will come.

You mentioned 11ax. What is that about?

This is still a nascent technology. It’s not yet standardized, but it is being rolled into the IEEE.

I think the targets are up to 10 gig. Let’s see how far they get. At that point, the Gigabit Ethernet backhaul will become an even more interesting problem. You’ll need 10 gig of backhaul from the access point.

In terms of the coming year, what should people look for?

They should expect a streamlined roadmap with unified management for wired and wireless, and unified security for wired and wireless in the campus. And they should expect changes in wiring closet switches to support Wave 2.

The other piece cooking in the labs is the next-generation controller technology. We invented the controller back in 2002 and that has gone through multiple generations of upgrades. The first controller had something like a 2Gig back plane that could support 1,000 users, and now we have a 40G controller that supports 32,000 users. So how do you get from there to 500G? That will require us to rethink architecture because these campuses are getting there.

We used to talk about tens of thousands of devices on a campus. Today campuses have hundreds of thousands of devices. How do you support them in a single architecture? Right now you add more controllers, but that creates a management problem. We are working on a unified solution for very large campuses and taking it to the next level for service providers as well.

 

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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