Aruba Switches on Wi-Fi Nets

 
 
By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2003-09-01
 
 
 

Aruba Wireless Networks Inc.s Aruba 5000 WLAN switch and Aruba 52 Access Points are good choices for companies deploying large-scale Wi-Fi networks, enabling businesses to meet performance demands while easing day-to-day management chores and keeping a close eye on security.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Aruba 5000 WLAN Switching System

Aside from some complexity and Web interface usability issues, the Aruba 5000 WLAN switch and corresponding access points will be fine choices for rolling out and securing any type of enterprise Wi-Fi network. An entry-level Aruba 5000 system starts at $12,000, but to get the full benefits and features of the system, IT managers will have to deploy Aruba APs (which are $500 each) and the RF Director software suite ($3,000 for 10 APs).

KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
USABILITY GOOD
CAPABILITY EXCELLENT
PERFORMANCE GOOD
INTEROPERABILITY GOOD
MANAGEABILITY FAIR
SCALABILITY EXCELLENT
SECURITY EXCELLENT
  • PRO: Strong, comprehensive WLAN security; good scalability; high levels of redundancy.
  • CON: Web interface isnt user-friendly; can be complex to set up and manage; limited reporting capabilities.

  • EVALUATION SHORT LIST
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    In eWEEK Labs tests, the Aruba 5000 wireless LAN switching system proved to be a capable, comprehensive package for planning, securing and managing large enterprise Wi-Fi environments. However, we encountered troubling complexity and Web interface usability issues in tests.

    The Aruba WLAN switching platform consists of the $12,000 Aruba 5000 switch with the AirOS operating system that provides WLAN switching services, and Aruba 52 APs, priced at $500 each. Bundled prices depend on the number of APs; we tested a system that could support 20 APs. A typical entry-level package would cost about $17,000 to $25,000.

    Aruba has been shipping the platform since June, but last month it released the RF Director software plug-ins, which allow IT managers to plan, secure and optimize WLANs. The suite, which is priced starting at $3,000 for 10 APs, includes RF Plan, RF Analyze and RF Lock applications, which proved useful in tests.

    RF Plan helps IT staff gauge the optimal deployment of APs and calibrate the wireless environment for radio frequency optimization. RF Analyze gathers and analyzes wireless traffic while monitoring RF activity for trouble-shooting network problems.

    RF Lock and RF Analyze work together to provide a centralized way to detect rogue APs and prevent them from granting unauthorized access to the corporate network. IT managers can employ RF Lock to probe the WLAN perimeter for rogue APs on a 24-by-7 basis and to obtain information on overall network health.

    The Aruba 5000 WLAN switch has a scalable chassis with strong built-in hardware redundancy. The modular four-slot chassis accommodates the hot-swappable WLAN switch modules and supervisor cards for out-of-band switch management. Each WLAN switch module provides 24 10/100M-bps Ethernet ports with integrated POE (power-over-Ethernet) capability.

    Because Aruba uses Generic Route Encapsulation tunnels for all traffic between the AP and the switch, APs need not be directly connected to the ports on the switch as long as there is a TCP/IP connection—a decided advantage over rivals such as Trapeze Networks Inc.s WLAN Mobility System. The Aruba system provides great deployment flexibility: The switch can be placed in data centers or wiring closets and can manage WLANs across routers and switches.

    The Aruba 5000 switch supports any Wi-Fi-compliant, third-party APs. This makes for a good lineup of third-party APs, but getting the Aruba system to work with them was not a seamless plug-and-play experience.

    When we tried to connect a Cisco Systems Inc. Aironet 1100 Series AP to the switch, we encountered issues with POE, and our clients couldnt roam from the Aruba AP to the Cisco AP. IT managers should expect upfront configuration and planning when deploying the Aruba system with third-party devices.

    As expected, the Aruba 5000 is best when deployed with Aruba 52 APs, and we recommend that shops roll out new WLANs to do so. Aruba 52 APs support 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g modes.

    The 5000 switchs Web user interface is decidedly unfriendly. The Web page layout for configuration tasks isnt logical, and often we werent sure if the switch had accepted our commands. Users familiar with Linux commands should instead use the command-line interface.

    Aruba Site Survey, a built-in tool that helps IT managers assess and plan deployment of Wi-Fi APs, provides a fairly detailed method of capacity planning and AP orientation. Unlike Trapezes WLAN Mobility System, Site Survey does not factor in building materials or possible RF interference from objects. Nevertheless, it provided an adequate representation of our test environment and gave us strong AP placement recommendations based on our test coverage requirements.

    Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.

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