The WLAN will include about 5,000 centrally managed "thin" access points and an undisclosed number of WLAN switches. The network will cover 277 buildings on the main campus in Redmond, Wash., as well as branch offices in more than 60 countries.
Spanning more than 17 million square feet and serving as many as 25,000 sessions at once, it will be among the worlds biggest corporate Wi-Fi networks. The installation already has begun, said officials at Aruba Wireless Networks Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif.
The new WLAN equipment will replace a six-year-old network that comprises wireless access points from Cisco Systems Inc. "Its a watershed moment for the industry," said Aruba CEO Don LeBeau. "Microsofts decision to migrate to the next-generation wireless technology indicates a major shift toward the centrally managed infrastructure for the mobile work force."
Cisco long eschewed the idea of stand-alone WLAN switches and thin access points but changed its tune, acquiring Aruba competitor Airespace Inc. earlier this year.
In fact, Ciscos acquisition of Airespace led to Aruba winning the Microsoft Corp. account.
The company issued an RFP (request for proposal) last year to replace its WLAN. According to sources familiar with the Microsoft RFP, the finalists were Nortel Networks Ltd., which was reselling equipment from Airespace; Aruba, which also makes WLAN switches; and Cisco, the incumbent.
According to sources, Microsoft was close to choosing equipment from Airespace late last year and was planning to buy the gear through Nortel Networks—a longtime Microsoft partner that at the time was a major reseller of Airespace gear. But Microsoft changed direction after Cisco announced plans to acquire Airespace in January.
Microsoft executives didnt want another Cisco-based system largely for competitive reasons, the sources said. For instance, Microsoft and Cisco offer competitive network-access tools—Ciscos NAC (Network Admission Control) versus Microsofts NAP (Network Access Protection). Aruba officials made a point Monday of saying that their gear will integrate with NAP.
Microsoft declined to comment on previous negotiations. Aruba officials said Aruba won the majority of the independent technical tests that Microsoft commissioned from multiple labs.
Arubas contract with Microsoft includes plans to collaborate on the development of both products and future industry standards, which should benefit customers other than Microsoftsaid LeBeau, who acknowledged that serving a customer with the size and reputation of Microsoft will be "a challenge." Upcoming products from Aruba will address issues such as client control, security and network management, he said.
"A very large, tough customer like Microsoft might swallow them up, but I would bet that it will force Aruba to improve the administration of its technology to reduce the need for customer support," said John Greiner, chief technology officer of Legal Services for New York City, an Aruba customer. "Overall, administration and notification setup could be simplified. While it may be simpler than Cisco, it is much more complex and labor-intensive than nonsecure wireless. For smaller organizations such as LSNY, there are no dedicated wireless engineers."
This summer, Aruba will introduce a network management switch designed to support multiple WLAN switches. While Aruba has offered network management capabilities in the past on its other switches, this will be a separate box with its own hard drive. An Aruba official said the box was designed for networks "along the lines of Microsofts network."
Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from Aruba CEO Don LeBeau and customer John Greiner.