Aruba buys multi-vendor WLAN firm AirWave

AirWave Wireless buy aimed at challenging Cisco in the marketplace

Enterprise Wi-Fi vendor Aruba Networks is going to buy AirWave Wireless, a multi-vendor WLAN management company, in a bid to take business from Cisco. The purchase may prove awkward for rival companies who work with Airwave.

AirWave, which Aruba is buying for US$37 million, provides software to build legacy standalone wireless access points from other vendors into networks managed by products such as Aruba's mobility controllers. It has been working with Aruba, and rivals such as HP and Colubris, as well as Avaya, AirMagnet and Tivoli.

"Management is an Achilles Heel for many vendors," said Roger Hockaday, head of European marketing at Aruba. "There's been a focus on controllers and network design, and not on reporting and diagnostics." Large vendors such as Hewlett-Packard and Juniper have been making use of AirWave to boost their wireless LAN products (in HP's case, re-badged versions of Motorola/Symbol technology), to give them features comparable to those of specialists like Aruba.

Most of AirWave's customers, however, have Cisco standalone access points - and Aruba has been using the Airwave platform to "adopt" these for more than a year. "We can extend the life of a thick access point by two years, giving people a more gentle upgrade," said Hockaday.

The software can also manage access points from vendors like Meru and Cisco, if users want to change supplier, he said, and it can include WiMax and outdoor mesh networks too.

AirWave's ambitions before the purchase were to be the "HP OpenView of wireless LAN management," and Aruba has promised to keep its independent status, by operating it separately to its own management software.

"This is not about taking AirWave and making it an Aruba product. We want to be the leader in multi-vendor networks," said Hockaday. "We're making a commitment to expand the number of products supported in the Airwave platform." There will be some customers where Aruba will sell only software, he said, but over time Aruba's own management software will merge with AirWave.

"Network management is an essential component of every WLAN solution, but is usually the piece that receives the least attention," said Michael Brandenburg, Enterprise Network Systems Analyst for Current Analysis. "We consider Aruba's acquisition of Airwave to be a strategic move that sets it apart in its ability to centralise management of the all too common multi-vendor WLAN deployment."

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