You don't necessarily need to have wireless controller box anymore in order to deliver enterprise-grade WLAN capabilities. The debate on whether or not a controller is necessary for WLANs is not a new one, though enterprise WLAN vendor Aruba is now adding more choices and options to the debate.
Aruba is advancing its controller-less WLAN options with a new Instant Enterprise WLAN offering. The Instant portfolio delivers a virtual controller on access points and is now being expanded with new provisioning and management capabilities.
"Many customers still choose a mobility controller for different reasons, whether it's the need for a centralized VLAN or encryption services on an appliance, but some want another option," Ozer Dondurmacioglu, senior director of product and solutions marketing for Aruba, told EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet .
Aruba announced it first Instant technology in November of 2011. Instant delivers controller-like features inside of the wireless access point including RF management and role based access control.
The new Aruba Instant 3.1 update expands the technology with improved video and voice optimization as well Layer 3 roaming capabilities.
Dondurmacioglu explained that the way the Instant WLAN works is that it is a single VLAN subnet, so if you were to install another subnet and you plugged the instant APs in another subnet it would create a separate VLAN. That said, there is a need to maintain mobility across VLANs which is what Instant now also provides, without a performance penalty.
The new Aruba Instant update also provides for WLAN uplink survivability. Dondurmacioglu noted that some of the hardware models in the Aruba Instant portfolio include a 3G/4G uplink module. On the authentication side, there is now a way to cache user authentication sessions within an Instant WLAN. So if the WAN link to the authentication server is down for any, the Instant is able to authenticate directly on the WLAN.
Dondurmacioglu explained that Aruba Instant works with PEAP (Protected Extensible Authentication Protocol) authentication.
"As users connect to the network we start caching their credentials and authentication state on the WLAN," Dondurmacioglu said. "We rely on that information only if we can't reach the backend clearpass authentication server."
Another new component to Instant is the inclusion of a provisioning technology that Aruba calls, Activate.
"Activate is a service that is targeted to make deployment of the network easier," Dondurmacioglu said.
Aruba has a management server service called Airwave that performs management, and reporting features. Activate is focused on deployment configuration. In the controller based model, access points download configuration information automatically from the controller. Activate is intended to perform a similar function, but without the need for a controller.
"Activate is the middleman connecting access points to Airwave at the point of installation," Dondurmacioglu said. "
Controller vs. Controller-less
Though Aruba is expanding its controller-less WLAN portfolio, that doesn't mean the company isn't still offering and supporting controller based solutions as well. Dondurmacioglu noted that at the core Aruba is a WLAN vendor, whether that WLAN includes a controller or not.
"We're not religious about it, we only care that the networks are up and running," Dondurmacioglu said. "What we see is a natural organic selection within customers; they know best how they want to run their own networks."