– Michael R. Tennefoss, Head of Strategic Marketing at Aruba Networks (www.arubanetworks.com), says:

What we’re witnessing is a fundamental shift in where and how we work. Users want always-on access to the enterprise network regardless of whether they’re working in an office, conference room, from home, or on the road.

First let’s be clear what the “all-wireless workplace” actually means. It refers only to access at the network edge, not to core connectivity. It is network access that is moving at lightning speed from Ethernet to Wi-Fi. The network core is expected to remain wired for the foreseeable future.

The biggest changes will occur in the wiring closets. A single 802.11n access point using adaptive band-steering technology can simultaneously serve >25 users. Since users have historically been equipped with 3 or 4 Ethernet cable drops, a single 802.11n access point will free up about 75-100 wired ports. This means that the migration to an all-wireless workplace affords the opportunity to “rightsize” the wiring closet by consolidating ports on fewer switches, discontinue service contracts on unused switches, and reduce spare parts pools by drawing from decommissioned switch stocks. Significant additional savings will come from reduced energy consumption (a switch consumes >40x more power than an access point), reduced HVAC cooling demand, and the elimination of expenses associated with adds/moves/changes. One state university system was able to fund almost its entire wireless network from savings obtained through network rightsizing.

802.11n Wi-Fi networks can generate significant traffic, and the wireless access points and controllers need to support high levels of sustained traffic. Aruba’s approach to this requirement has been to design high performance processors into our controllers, the result being very high traffic throughput.

The biggest operational issue facing IT managers is how to manage large networks, potentially dispersed around the world, without overburdening IT staff. Gaining visibility into local network status – including the local operating environment and sources of RF interference – is essential to this process. Every existing 802.11n access point should be able to switch into spectrum analysis mode to allow remote classification of interference sources without a truck roll. The network should be able to self-adapt to dynamic conditions, automatically rebalancing loads and shifting clients to quitter operating bands without manual intervention. A centralized architecture that pushes updates and changes system-wide without dispatching IT personnel is also essential, and will yield significant time and money savings for both small and large deployments alike.

Aruba advocates the use of multi-vendor network management systems, that is a single system that will manage wireless products from multiple suppliers from a single console. Over time IT managers will have to integrate old and new facilities, old and new product families, and a multi-vendor management solution avoids the need for, and headache of supporting, multiple management systems.