This week, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) company, is holding its Atmosphere user event. After being virtual-only for the past two years, the conference has an in-person component due to the pandemic. For Aruba customers, Atmosphere has always been an important event because it's the place to learn about the innovation the vendor is bringing to the network, particularly in Wi-Fi, where Aruba has been a technology leader since its days as an independent company.
One could argue that the 2022 Atmosphere is the most important one since HPE acquired Aruba in 2015, given that the companies are planning to return employees to the office. In addition, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation initiatives, which mandates upgrades to networks. Almost all the technology building blocks of digital transformation – including cloud, mobility, IoT and security – are network-centric in nature. Businesses cannot become digital organizations with a legacy network.
Today at Atmosphere, Aruba announced new capabilities in its Edge Service Platform (ESP), along with new functionality in its Aruba Central management portal, to enable a higher level of network agility. Digital businesses need to change with speed, and that requires an agile IT foundation, but legacy networks tend to be rigid and brittle. The new Aruba Central NetConductor enables businesses to centralize the management of distributed networks. Legacy networks are typically managed on a node-by-node basis, which is why it often can take months to make even a simple networkwide change.
Central NetConductor is a service built on a cloud-native platform that brings the benefits of the cloud to the network. Nearly all facets of IT infrastructure have benefited by centralizing capabilities in the cloud. Computing and storage have been trending this way for more than a decade. Unified communications and contact centers are currently in this transition. The network, however, is not there yet. The centralization of configuration capabilities enables network administrators to make a change once and propagate it across the network in near real-time. This can be key for policies that dictate application performance but also for the enforcement of Zero Trust and SASE security policies.
In its media advisory, Aruba highlighted three key principles of network modernization.
Automation. Just a few years ago, automation was a dirty word with network professionals because many viewed it as a threat to their jobs. Today, the opinion has changed because automation is the only way for IT to manage a hybrid workforce. Central NetConductor offers simplified, intent-based workflows with AI-enabled automation to remove much of the heavy lifting with which network engineers are tasked.
Security. The rise of the cloud and personal devices have made security in the app or endpoint difficult to manage. In a world where everything is connected, infusing security into the network makes the most sense. NetConductor offers increased threat detection and protection with integrated identity-based access control and dynamic segmentation, which are important components of zero trust. Security has always been a key differentiator for Aruba. In fact, I have often referred to Aruba as a security vendor that delivers its value through the network.
Agility. As mentioned earlier, network agility is critical to business agility. NetConductor uses standards-based protocols such as EVPN, VXLAN and BGP and operates as a virtual overlay to a physical underlay. This enables NetConductor to work with other vendors. Customers also have purchasing flexibility because they can procure the solution in a network as a service (NaaS) consumption model.
Aruba also announced self-locating indoor access points (APs) with built-in GPS and Open Locate, an emerging standard, for improved indoor location services. AP installation is a manual process, which can lead to inaccurate location information. Aruba's Wi-Fi 6 and 6E APs use a combination of traditional Wi-Fi location and GPS to improve indoor location services' accuracy greatly. The new APs obviate the need for surveys or record location information as the entire process is automated.
Historically, Wi-Fi triangulation was very inaccurate, but the new Aruba capabilities improve location services down to under a meter. This is critical for asset tracking, safety/compliance purposes, facility planning, retail apps, venue experiences or other location-based services. Many businesses I have interviewed have been interested in building indoor location-based apps, but the lack of accuracy has held them back.
HPE has handled the Aruba acquisition very well, primarily by letting the group run autonomously. Since the purchase, HPE has expanded the portfolio of Aruba products from being primarily Wi-Fi to the campus and WAN. These new solutions can help businesses modernize the end-to-end network and prepare for the next era of work.