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Aruba touts Wi-Fi grid scheme

Corporate WLANs as on-demand utility

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Corporate wireless networking specialist Aruba this week unveiled what it calls a new architecture for enterprise WLANs: the Wi-Fi grid.

That's 'grid' is as in 'electricity' rather than 'computing'. Aruba is offering equipment that it claims will allow enterprises to build wireless as a utility rather than a service.

Like a number of other corporate-oriented WLAN companies - most recently Cisco - Aruba espouses 'thin access points' - base-station stripped of the complex security and access circuitry found on most access points intended for use on their own, typically in homes and small offices.

Instead, the heavy duty work is handled in the IT department by centralised 'wireless switches' - hubs into which a corporate's numerous access points connect.

Aruba's latest take on the thin access point is its own AP 60 and AP 61 offerings, which unlike fat access points and other thin offers, it claimed, are designed to plug straight into a wall Ethernet socket, drawing on said for both power and data connectivity.

And, in conjunction with Ortronics, Aruba also announced the world's first Wi-Fi Wall Jack - a wall-mounted Ethernet port that integrates an Aruba 802.11a/b/g radio.

Aruba claimed both products are drastically easier and less expensive to install than existing, ceiling mounted access points. They are also geared to be installed in higher densities than traditional thin and fat APs, creating what Aruba calls "microcells" of Wi-Fi connectivity.

Instead of, say, installing four regular APs in a 10,000sq ft office, you put in 20 new Aruba thin APs, said Keerti Melkote, Aruba's product marketing VP. That yields more bandwidth per user than the traditional approach, without the cost of a ceiling installation.

Higher bandwidth arises from reduced contention rates - fewer users per access point - and Aruba's own interference avoidance algorithms. More, evenly spaced APs better allows the WLAN as a whole to cover dead zones. And because each user is physically closer to their associated AP, both client and AP can operate on reduced power. APs not associated with clients - during evenings, say, can be automatically powered down. They remain out of operation until they're needed.

AP roll-outs have so far been limited by the cost of installation, said Melkote. That has forced enterprises to install as few APs as possible. Aruba's approach, he said, will let them put in not only sufficient APs for today's needs but to allow for future expansion, simply because they are so easy and cheap to fit - just plug into a free Ethernet port.

The thin APs patch into Aruba's new $1600 5100 WLAN switch, which handles authentication, security - for full wireless-to-wired 802.11i protection - VPN maintenance, guest access provision, rogue AP elimination network performance tuning and so on.

To drive the hardware's adoption as the foundation for utility-like on-demand wireless, Aruba said it will bundle its grid software with a batch of APs, which will be priced at $200 per AP per year, including full support and free AP repairs, replacements and software upgrades. ®

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