With its new Virtual Branch Network (VBN) portfolio, Aruba Networks is setting its sights on branch office networks and teleworker access.
Aruba's new products include standard features such as centralized management and split tunneling, but they also include a series of plug-and-play devices that workers themselves can deploy, with list prices starting at less than $100.
Paul DeBeasi, an analyst with the Burton Group, said the foray into branch and home office networks could win Aruba some ready converts among enterprises looking to bring remote workers easily and securely onto corporate networks.
"This can really broaden the market for the Aruba equipment," DeBeasi said. "We have many more companies with workers working from home."
The move also brings to bear a wider array of devices for delivering secure, simple connectivity to branch offices of all sizes.
Aruba's new PBN RAP-2 (Remote Access Point) provides connectivity to as many as five concurrent wireless 802.11b/g endpoint devices. It also features an Ethernet connection that can be used for an IP phone or Internet access. All told, the RAP-2 supports about 4 Mbps of throughput.
The PBN RAP-5 has five Ethernet ports, with optional 802.11a/b/g/n access. It can also hook directly into a cellular 3G connection, giving remote workers in a branch office near-broadband speeds via a wireless network. List price is $395.
Finally, Aruba introduced the 600 Branch Office Controller line of branch office routers: the 620, which has eight Ethernet ports; the 650, which has six wired ports; and the 651, which has six wired ports and 802.11a/b/g/n access. These higher-powered office routers start at $1,495. The Branch Office Controllers can support up to 265 users.
Michael Tennefoss, Aruba's head of strategic marketing, said the company was able to keep price points low across the line by leaving much of the work to Aruba's 6000 Multi-Service Controller, which can support and manage up to 8,000 RAP and 600 Series devices.
"The key thing is that we were able to ride on that [basic] platform because we're leveraging the controller to do so much of the heavy lifting," Tennefoss said. "You couldn't just take that platform and make it do what we're doing."
DeBeasi said that Aruba VBN products, particularly the $99 RAP-2, offer a unique combination of ease of use, a low price point, and enterprise-ready security.
A remote worker can simply plug the RAP-2 into a working home office Ethernet connection, plug his laptop into the RAP-2's second Ethernet port, and follow an in-browser prompt to enter the corporate webpage for the RAP devices (for example, RAP.TechTarget.com). Based on centrally managed permissions and policies, the RAP-2 can automatically create secure and unsecured Wi-Fi networks, initialize an IP phone, and allow end users to access the corporate network just as if they were connecting to the corporate LAN.
In some tests by SearchNetworking.com, the process worked almost flawlessly (one webpage did have to be manually refreshed when the user wasn't automatically forwarded to a corporate page), with minimal user interaction and, therefore, fewer chances for user error.
RAP-2 has only one visible debugging button (another hard reset button is hidden at the bottom of the device), and the end user typically does not even need to use that to connect securely to the enterprise network and gain a working IP phone line.
DeBeasi said Aruba has learned from the mistakes that it and other vendors have made in branch office networking and teleworker connectivity. In the past, wireless companies have slowly written software for these kinds of capabilities into higher-end access points (APs) with price tags ranging from $400 to $600. The deployment has been inelegant, too, which has kept enterprises from deploying these enterprise-grade APs widely.
Tennefoss said the company had learned a lot since it first added remote connection features to its APs in 2007.
"That solution worked for some applications, like retail, but there were some configurations where that did not work, because it required setup by IT in advance," he said. "We had to eliminate that in order to reduce that overhead and make it affordable on a large scale. We've been working on that formula for the past two years."
VPNs, the other alternative for secure remote connections, can be too complex for users, a hassle to manage, and vulnerable if end users connect via an unsecured Wi-Fi router.
"If you let the consumers buy what they want and use what they want, you don't know if they're not accidentally letting someone else view all the traffic," DeBeasi said. He pointed to the risk of an improperly configured router that was not running the latest in security protocols.
The RAP-2 and RAP-5 cut out the need for hands-on IT help in deploying or even configuring the devices while still providing what Tennefoss described as a comprehensive, enterprise-ready feature set.
He said the 600 line did require some configuration because of its branch-in-the-box nature.
Pricing across the line is competitive, DeBeasi said. Combined with packaging and usability, the VBN products give a strong offering in branch office and remote networking.
"The competitors out there have not brought something to market like this," he said. "If it takes off, I'm sure competitors will respond."
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