Aruba's Manageable Gear
Aruba Networks' 651 Branch Office Controller and AP-105 access points offer a flexible, highly manageable and secure means of providing Wi-Fi communications to an office environment. The Aruba products work together to support up to 512 users and 2,048 MAC addresses. The Aruba 651 Controller contains its own 2.4 gigahertz 802.11a/b/g/n access point, and will support up to 16 LAN-connected APs and 64 remote APs, which are managed through a web-based utility embedded in the controller.
The Aruba 651 delivers a wealth of wireless connectivity options for small to medium-size organizations. It supports enterprise Wi-Fi Protected Access and includes an internal Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service server. Aruba makes a version of the 651 controller that meets Federal Information Processing Standards requirements, similar in operation to the version reviewed here but which we did not test. Aruba's access points work well in both the 2.5GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi frequency bands, and with multiple antennas per access point and multiple access points, and can take advantage of multipath radio reception for improved performance.
The Aruba controller is highly configurable through the easily accessed embedded management utility. The management software controls the operation of the access points, provides visibility into the radio environment, and sets up and manages users and groups and their related security. The controller can be attached directly to access points through a CAT5 Ethernet cable, or it can be connected through a switched Ethernet network at gigabit speeds.
Why It Works for IT
The Aruba 651 controller offers a single management point for all of the access points required for a small to medium-size organization. Through a single interface, network managers can set up and configure access points and security requirements; create user-specific virtual private networks; support monitoring of Wi-Fi operations and the RF environment; and alert managers to rogue or interfering Wi-Fi signals. The Aruba Wi-Fi products support Voice over Wi-Fi, including Unlicensed Mobile Access communications, and automatically set priority for those devices.
The Aruba 651 controller also controls all of the Aruba access points on the network. For this review, we used dual-radio AP-105 devices that allow simultaneous operation on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. They communicate with the controller through a Gigabit Ethernet connection, either using a direct attachment or through an Ethernet network. Management of the controller and APs is straightforward, and while it will require a working knowledge of security, networking and Wi-Fi, the interface is well designed and easy to use. Staff who have configured Wi-Fi controllers or routers in the past should have little difficulty. Configuration of the controller is made easier through the use of embedded wizards that collect the required information and create the necessary configuration files for you while also making the required changes.
The upper size limit of hard drives that can be attached to a USB port on the Aruba 651 Controller
Access points use Power over Ethernet; therefore, each AP requires either a PoE-capable switch or an external power supply.
The Aruba 651 controller requires the use of Aruba access points. While Aruba provides complete setup and operational instructions, most of the operation of the controller is reasonably intuitive. Managers will need a working knowledge of Wi-Fi and security management to understand the prompts, so management of the device is probably beyond the capability of novice users.
A Look Inside a Wi-Fi Network
Wi-Fi in large buildings and urban environments has become extremely crowded. A search for wireless access points can reveal dozens of signals, all trying to share the same small piece of radio spectrum.
The Aruba 651 includes an important monitoring function for the Wi-Fi neighborhood around you that will let you see what's actually out there and identify whether it belongs to your organization. This capability also lets the Aruba 651 coexist with other wireless products, can alert you when a rogue access point pops up, and can identify other Wi-Fi devices that might be interfering with your operations.
The ability to monitor the radio-frequency environment means that you can pick the best channel for each of your access points, and you can identify access points that might have so much interference that more density is required for your users to reach the network. This broad view of the Wi-Fi environment supports both operations and security in a single screen and makes it easy to optimize your Wi-Fi operations.