Aruba Networks have launched what they are calling a next generation cloud WIFI solution and Chris Kozup is here to tell us more about the product and what has driven them to develop it.
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Chris, start of then by telling us about the background as to why you felt it necessary to develop this?
Aruba has always had the goal of providing the most flexible architecture options to our customers and this announcement really is continuing with that tradition. Essentially what we have noticed over the past year is that our customers continue to build more flexibility in to how they allow the workplace to take shape. We see almost in some respects disaggregation of the workplace where employees can either be at the headquarters, at a branch office, their home office or they could be on the road. This is how they keep the concept of broader mobility but behind the scenes what is required to enable that is really different types of architecture. On the one hand organizations are looking for flexibility in the types of wireless architecture that they are able to deliver, but on the other hand they are also looking for a more flexible cost models as well. So we saw this trend towards the need for this flexibility in architecture and also at the same time the general readiness I would say of organizations to actually belt and brace the software service model. Aruba looked at these trends and decided it would be in our customer’s best interest to move all of the management functionality into the cloud. The difference that this makes for our customers is they can manage the breadth of their working environment whether it is a home or branch or corporate office. They can manage all of this from a single point but the management is actually housed and maintained in the cloud and they can access that simply through a web browser. This ultimately becomes a service that they pay for as opposed to equipment that they buy and deploy on premise
What sort of businesses and working practices have you aimed this solution at?
We have seen a lot of interest in what I would call the extended branch type of enterprise. I think here of retailers as an example, or even financial services, banking and insurance types of organizations. Anyone who has a large number of small footprint branch offices where it becomes quite costly for them to either deploy solutions in those branches or have professional IT folks located in those branches. This is really a prime solution for them because they can first of all drop ship the access points directly to those branches, they can be plugged in by non IT savvy professionals and the access point will find its way back to the cloud, download its configuration settings and then become completely manageable as part of the broader infrastructure of that organization. So we have seen a lot of interest in that extended branch but we also see a lot of marketing opportunities in the mid size and in some cases the small to medium sized businesses as well. These are really both types of organisations that certainly have demands for wireless connectivity and robust IT communication demands but don’t always have the IT staff in house or flexible options in terms of how they pay and fund these types of infrastructure build outs.
Also within education, we see a lot of initiatives in the UK and across Europe in terms of provisioning schools with more digital learning tools like tablets and Smartphones and all those types of devices obviously require connectivity. Once again, we have the same scenario where the school doesn’t necessarily have the expert IT staff in house so looking for this type of solution is the right size for their type of organization.
We have spoken a lot on this podcast about the trend of IT departments farming out services to third party providers – is that what has driven the demand for this as well?
Yes and in fact it is very much in line with some of the research that Aruba had conducted earlier in the year which definitely points to exactly what you say which is organizations will rely more and more on outsourced and third parties for their IT expertise so there is certainly the human aspect of that where they may look to partners for that skill source but I see that the work that we as a vendor can do is to make the service much easier to consume and that is what this cloud solution does it obviously makes management an ongoing operation of your wireless network that much more simple because you don’t have to deploy on premise equipment and you have an interface such designed really for getting started with the basics but then also can grow with you as you look for more and more deeper knowledge and capabilities within the tool.
Is it purely down to reducing costs why businesses are increasingly going out to third party providers or is it mainly around skills availability within their business?
I think that cost is obviously a factor and obviously if we can build in more flexible cost models shifting away from upfront capital expenditures and moving more into ongoing operational expenditures that is attractive to a lot of organizations because they can budget more effectively for that.
I would also say driving towards just the idea of having consistent wireless connectivity across the broad range of places where the employees would be doing work, the driver for this is enterprises desire to make sure that all of its services and all of its information is as pervasive as possible. So this type of solution allows organizations to meet the demands provision and supply services across any location but in a way that it is far more flexible from a cost perspective and also allows them to manage it more effectively with fewer man hours than what may have been required with previous solutions.
The reliability of businesses connectivity is paramount isn’t it? I know your channel partner PacketLogix ran a lot of beta testing on this for you but talk us through the testing that a product like this goes through before it goes out to market?
The first step is to really understand the needs of our customers and Aruba has an extensive community what we call the ‘airheads’ community and this is really the primary form where all of our customers have access to shared technical experience. They can ask questions and provide feedback and it effectively creates a closed loop process for the company allowing us to engage with the customers and ensure they have the information they need. It also serves as an effective platform to make sure that we are identifying the pay points that our customers are to provide an end solution delivered to market. That is really the first step of course, once we have determined the initial feature functionality we obviously make sure that it fulfills the needs of the market and that we are ahead of the competition.
We then take the tools out to beta, in conjunction with partners and a handful of customers to get real world types of experience with the solution. Once that is complete we go to market in full.
Well, we can’t talk about anything to do with connectivity without the big ‘S’ word, Security. What have you built into this product to supply a secure network for your clients?
I am glad that you brought that up, obviously whenever we talk about moving anything into the cloud then security is obviously very important. Aruba is working with leading industry standards like Trusteer to ensure that the whole security framework solution is certified so that we can meet the data protection and privacy policies that is obviously our requirement as part of EU law. We take security very seriously Aruba the company has really built its whole heritage and foundation on security and certainly this solution is no exception to that.
What would your advice to IT managers be when they are considering a solution like this, maybe those that might be worried about relinquishing control to a third party?
I would first qualify that there is really very little relinquishing at all that happens here. Ultimately into the cloud is really just a management data and first of all there is no traffic or security details of any sort as part of the cloud it is purely just the management of the access point infrastructure and that management is something they control completely. If anything what the solution is giving them is actual greater efficiency. Instead of going to multiple management consoles or managing different types of networks that may be in different parts of the world, they can actually build a consistent framework for how they monitor, manage and do things like firm updates, configuration changes and reporting.
In fact the biggest requirement from our customers is for recording PCs by compliance for example, especially in retail environments. This type of solution really brings all of that information into a central point which they have sole control over but it allows them to be much more efficient and effective in terms of how they operate and maintain their network environment.
BYOD is a subject that we discuss here a lot on ITProPortal especially around addressing some of the reliability problems around connecting a range of mobile devices that might be switching from one network to another. I understand that you have built a clever solution to that within this product?
What is encompassed here with this solution is the capable client match. First of all it is intelligence that is built into the top range of our access point portfolio. If you think of it this way, when a user walks into a building and they have their device in their pocket or even in their hand that device is going to connect to the first access point that it sees within that facility. As the user makes their way to sit down at the desk they actually could be located on the other side of the building but that device is still holding onto that connection that it made at the first point where it entered the building. Aruba client match allows us to take a system level view and make sure that clients are connected into the access level points that are closest to them making sure that they have the most optimal performance possible. Again it is another example of the work that Aruba has done to really make sure that we understand what occurs in real life deployments in organizations to make sure that we can optimize for some of those challenges.
Technology and working practices are constantly changing and developing and obviously companies are going to want to invest into a system that will cope with those changes, so how scalable is this solution?
This is the beauty of this type of solution is that it is really infinitely scalable. Ultimately organizations have the flexibility to scale up or in essence to buy another access point into their cloud if you will, or even scale down. Both of which may be equally of concern to many customers. The fact that all the management and capability services are hosted in the cloud means that we are obviously building on a very robust network of cloud providers and global data vendors with a presence in all major regions that allow us to either scale up or scale down based on the requirements of the customer. Again flexibility being a key point here for a viable proposition that cloud offers.