Aruba's announcement today that they are acquiring AirWave is of course interesting to anyone who follows the WLAN industry, but its significance extends far beyond WLANs alone. Management has traditionally been one of the less interesting aspects of networking, perhaps because so few people are actually involved in it on a day-to-day basis, and those folks tend to speak in obscure dialects and sit behind consoles in dimly lit rooms.
But if the network is indeed the circulatory system of the enterprise, these guys are the ones who make sure the heart is within normal operating parameters, and all the arteries and veins are free of plaques and clots and otherwise working at peak efficiency. And, of course, these guys are only as good as the tools they build their solutions on. Management is to my way of thinking is in fact going to become the critical differentiator in networking (wireless and wired) as we move ahead. A solid management offering will be the part of a proposed solution that wins deals.
AirWave specializes in vendor-independent WLAN management. I like their product a lot, and, while all of the major enterprise-class WLAN systems vendors have capable and often robust management platforms, there's a lot to be said for going the (formerly, anyway) third-party route. Think about this:
- Many enterprises are going to wind up, over time, with a number of different WLAN systems. This might be because purchasing was done by multiple departments or over a number of years as part of separate bids, or because the operations guys didn't get involved in the buying decision so as to argue for the simplicity that a single-vendor solution usually brings. Regardless, a single console for all of the WLANs has obvious value here.
- Next, there's an increasing need to manage across large geographies - multi-site management is critical is lowering operational expense. I wrote my first paper on this topic almost four years ago, and I believe more than ever that the ability of a management system to handle large, distributed operations is critical.
- Finally, consider that what we really need is a vendor-neutral management platform that can handle both wired and wireless networks - initially just LANs, but eventually extending across wired and wireless WANs to the management of individual users, applications, and devices. That's where the big bucks get saved.
I'm not saying either Aruba or AirWave is going to jump on this unified-network opportunity right away, just that the union of Aruba and AirWave creates a powerful combination that is going to set the pace for the next set of advances we're likely to see in what is, again, a critical but often underappreciated element of essentially every enterprise network. And if this level of capability is not in your network operations plan today, it's definitely time to start thinking along these lines.