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Wireless Networking | News

New Aruba OS Addresses High-Density WiFi

Aruba Networks has released a new operating system for its 802.11n wireless controllers and access points. ArubaOS 6.0 is designed to improve over-the-air reliability and security for campus customers that need to manage high-density wireless usage environments. The company has also developed user guides for deploying WiFi in high-density settings and managing Apple iPads.

New functionality in the operating system can identify traffic protocols in order to apply quality of service standards; spectrum analysis has been built into the software; and two tools--Tarpit Containment and TotalWatch--can assist in dampening WiFi threats.

According to Ozer Dondurmacioglu, a manager of product marketing for Aruba, three trends are driving the current redesign of the operating system. First, more people are relying on devices that lack Ethernet ports, such as Apple's iPad, and therefore require wireless for their online connectivity. "Given the fact that these devices are more affordable, their cost entry point is lower, and that they're extremely portable makes it extremely easy for user to adapt to them and start playing with them," explained Dondurmacioglu.

Second, the number of devices per user is growing, creating a high density problem in settings such as lecture classrooms or auditoriums. According to IDC, smartphone sales more than doubled in the first six months of 2010. Gartner cited 40 percent growth in mobile PCs for the year. And Apple reported sales of 3 million iPads in its second quarter 2010 financial results.

Third, said Dondurmacioglu, applications are becoming more interactive. "They're more voice and video driven, and they're designed more towards using collaboration." This, he noted, "creates an interesting challenge for IT administration. They want to make these devices available, and they want to be able to support them."

Application fingerprinting has been added into Aruba's WiFi chipset, which will allow customers to identify and prioritize video and voice. The software monitors the stream of packets being sent by a specific device and identifies the protocol behind it. The administrator can set priorities on data to make sure that voice and video traffic isn't affected by other network activity.

An integrated spectrum analyzer will provide a means for the access point to identify non-WiFi noise sources, such as cordless phones, microwaves, or other devices. "For example, we may want to classify a BlueTooth device and show the IT administrator how that device is affecting performance," said Dondurmacioglu. "They can work around it; they can be aware of it; or, if they choose to do so, they can remove those devices from the network."

On the security front, the company is integrating two tools into the operating system. Tarpit Containment and TotalWatch allow the administrator to detect and classify WiFi-based interference, attacks, and threats and remove them more quickly from the network.

Tarpit is a containment device to "attack the attacker," Dondurmacioglu said. It works by creating a zone for rogue devices to connect to. For example, students may set up their own "homegrown" networks in their residence hall for gaming or some other activity, which could depress the university's WiFi performance. Instead of connecting to the router he or she just configured, the student's device will connect to Aruba's sensor, which will become a fake access point for that client. "At that point, data communication stops," said Dondurmacioglu. "If it's a Windows device, it takes a couple of minutes to refresh the IP address. To the user it looks like network connectivity is down." That in turn becomes a troubleshooting exercise for the user, and "that device is not on the network for that amount of time."

TotalWatch provides a mechanism for monitoring specific wireless frequencies in a more granular fashion. That allows the administrator to "classify threats faster and more accurately and to remove them from the network," Dondurmacioglu said.

He added that customers running the company's 802.11n controllers will be able to log into the Aruba support Web site to access the new software for their gear. The access points will pick up the software from the controllers.

The company's customer service organization has also published two guides made available on the Aruba Networks Web site to advise users on how to design wireless networks for high-density usage. "High-Density Wireless Networks for Auditoriums Validated Reference Design" shares best practices for setting up an Aruba 802.11n wireless network in an auditorium-style room with 500 or more seats. "Enabling High-Performance for Apple iPads in the Enterprise" addresses how to set up a wireless LAN infrastructure that can support iPad deployments.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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