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Where budget is key, Aruba have a neat solution that dispenses of the need for a physical controller. Aruba Instant APs (IAP) combine enterprise grade WLAN performance, security, and scalability yet are simple to install and setup.
IAPs are configured in ‘clusters’, and for each cluster exists a virtual controller. From the outside, it’s as though you are logged into a standard hardware controller… there’s a GUI, you can see your access points, you can see your clients, you can configure SSIDs, monitor RF performance, etc.
In fact everything you would expect from a normal wireless deployment. The VC is capable of talking to a RADIUS server for 802.1X authentication, and even has a built in Guest portal for quick and easy splash page guest sign in.
GUI Screenshot of the Aruba Instant VC
Behind the scenes, a single AP is actually running as a controller (as well as an AP). It can be elected automatically else you can specify a particular AP if desired. The beauty is that if that AP goes down, another one immediately takes its place. Hence the redundancy is effectively huge.
Provided each AP is placed in the same VLAN, all IAPs are able to find each other and download their firmware and configuration. Therefore, you put the effort in once, and let the network percolate the result.
It is recommended that clusters are limited to 128 APs with a maximum of 2048 clients. If you want to go bigger, then simply add more clusters, but then you’d have to duplicate the controller configuration (easier enough with a quick export/import). A client would then perform a ‘layer 3 roam’ between the clusters if moving between them, which is fine for data but may not be a seamless experience for voice. It’s also possible to manage the IAPs from Airwave, but then you’re creeping into the enterprise space.
If you later decide to move to a controller based system, then the IAPs may be reprogrammed to talk to a controller.
It is not possible however to go the other way and migrate a standard controller AP to an IAP, hence most people just buy IAPs due to their flexibility.
Creating your Guest portal
Controllers are becoming just that, controlling. It’s funny how people rarely include the word wireless in conversation, we just assume they’re referring to a wireless controller. A myriad of possibilities and features now exist on one single platform making it harder to decide where to delegate the roles in a network, especially in the SMB environment.
A controller can handle both wired and wireless traffic (see separate blog) allowing a uniform set of policies. An engineer may also want to take advantage of the remote functionality such as VPN and Remote APs to extend out to the homeworker.
Clarity, a relatively new feature offers visibility into non-RF metrics (RADIUS, DHCP and DNS server). And there’s also the security features such as RFProtect which protects the network from wireless attacks as well as handling sources of RF interference, and AppRF which gives insight into the applications being run.
Due to the AP-WLC tunnelling, a controller centralises the VLAN-to-SSID assignment meaning that clients appear on the VLAN exiting the controller. With an IAP, clients are dropped locally, meaning that a trunk must exist on the IAP with all the necessary VLANs allowed. The latter doesn’t always scale well and can lead to complications where layer 3 edge switches exist.
However this may all change since with every release of code version, the landscape shifts and features become common to platforms or more closely integrated.
A controller model AP-207 on the left, and an instant IAP-207 on the right. Spot the difference?
If money is tight or the myriad of enterprise grade features are lost on you, then Aruba’s Instant AP cluster deployment may be the wireless solution you’re looking for.