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5/22/2008
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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Rollout: AirWave's WLAN Management Suite Put To The Test

The latest version of AirWave's Wireless Management Suite aims to be the sole control point for multivendor wireless LANs.

The wireless net working market is changing at a dizzying pace, with once-cutting-edge hardware sets becoming legacy gear in the blink of an eye. The result: Many companies--especially those working toward all-wireless offices--find themselves proud owners of mixed-vendor wireless LANs.

To address management of these networks, AirWave, which was acquired by Aruba Networks in January for $37 million, brings a new mix of tools to version 6.0 of its multivendor Wireless Management Suite, or AWMS. While the suite doesn't have all the pieces required to completely replace vendor-specific tools, it's the closest we've seen to a heterogeneous WLAN management product.

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We tested a beta version of AWMS 6.0 at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs. The new code handled a fair portion of the campus' Lightweight Access Point Protocol (LWAPP)-based production AirOrange Network. With AWMS 6.0 managing or monitoring IOS-based point-to-point bridges, LWAPP and Aruba 802.11n access points, Radius servers, a Cisco Wireless LAN Solution Engine, a variety of network switches, and hundreds of clients, it didn't take long to see the value proposition. We also gave the product full configuration control over several test devices in a nonproduction lab environment. AWMS supports new 802.11n access points from Cisco Systems and Aruba, and support for 802.11n gear from Meru and others is due soon. As in previous AWMS versions, the complete list of wireless products supported reads like a who's who in the wireless industry, including mesh and WiMax product sets from 3Com, Tropos, and almost everyone in between.

RIGHT ON SCHEDULE
One of the most valuable features in any wireless management system is the ability to schedule tasks. In this regard, AWMS shines. New to 6.0 is the ability to specify standard date/time formats, and we found greater flexibility in planning downtime, a must-have capability given that most production WLANs have become critical resources.

Also new in Wireless Management Suite 6.0, AirWave provides help-desk functionality to go with its hardware management capabilities. For example, if a wireless user can't authenticate to a secure wireless network segment, first-level responders with role-appropriate AWMS access can capture symptoms and feedback with screen shots and annotations that can be integrated with systems like Remedy Service Desk or used within AWMS.

THE UPSHOT
CLAIM:  AirWave wants to lure customers away from vendor-specific WLAN management systems with its Wireless Management Suite 6.0. Heterogeneous environments may benefit from an overarching management console that provides enterprise-class features and supports a broad range of devices.

CONTEXT:  Rival tools from wireless hardware vendors tend to manage only their own products--and sometimes not very well. If you have WLAN gear from multiple sources, your headaches are magnified. A vendor-neutral management system is the best medicine, if you can afford it.

CREDIBILITY:  Configuration scheduling, help-desk-related data gathering, and powerful visuals all contribute to the effectiveness of a wireless management system. AirWave nails these but needs to go beyond SNMP-controlled capabilities to be a full replacement for vendor-supplied systems.
When we induced failures during testing, AWMS revealed a wealth of information, enabling better and quicker escalation. And for large companies with several wireless networks spread out across multiple geographic areas, enhancements made to the Master Console architecture allow distributed AWMS systems to be controlled from a central location.

AWMS 5.0's VisualRF module was quite clunky. In 6.0, VisualRF has improved; for example, the SVG format has given way to Flash for expanded browser compatibility. AirWave also heeded the call for easier floor-plan imports by adding native support for bulk import of CAD files, and AP placement may be carried over if provisioned properly.

AirWave provides robust client location services, and recognizing increased use of radio frequency identification, the Wireless Management Suite now supports tracking of AeroScout RFID tags when used with Cisco LWAPP controllers.

As with other network management tools, bringing AWMS to a functional state requires discovering devices and building profiles, policies, and the general management framework for a given environment. AWMS is fairly intuitive in this regard, and it was a swift process getting our devices found and managed.

Still, while AirWave has made great strides with Wireless Management Suite 6.0, it isn't yet a full replacement for vendor-specific management platforms. Searching for a client device in AWMS is just as easy as doing it in Cisco's Wireless Control System--but if you need to push a configuration template to an LWAPP controller that's denying the client WLAN access, AWMS can't help. Same with configuring access control lists available through Wireless Control System's proprietary mechanisms--AWMS isn't there yet.

That said, for networks that use multiple wireless systems, and for those who aren't satisfied with the management products offered by their WLAN vendors, AirWave's Wireless Management Suite 6.0 provides an attractive alternative. The Professional Edition license lists for $36,995 and supports as many as 1,000 devices, including APs, controllers, routers, and switches. The master console is an additional $14,995.

Illustration by Nick Rotondo

Return to the story:
802.11n Is Here. Get Ready For A Wire-Free Enterprise

Continue to the sidebars:
Copper Costs Lots Of Pretty Pennies
and
Voice Is A Bump On Road To Wireless

Continue to the story:
Building Better Branch-Office Wireless

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