Caffeinated thoughts about wi-fi and our world

Aruba Is Killing the Maintenance Window

On March 1, 2017, over two thousand engineers, technicians, executives, and sales professionals attending Atmosphere 2017 witnessed the first public salvo in Aruba’s campaign to destroy the enterprise Wi-Fi maintenance window. In the boldest display of live demo confidence many of us in attendance had ever witnessed, Aruba CTO Partha Narasimhan and Director of Product Management Peter Lane announced--about 24 minutes into the keynote presentation--that a live upgrade to ArubaOS was occurring on the conference center’s wireless infrastructure as they spoke (and were literally streaming live video over wireless).

Nearly 2,000 client devices connected to three mobility controllers and 192 access points were unaffected as clients were dynamically moved between groups of APs across different controllers while firmware was delivered and applied, and devices rebooted. While the initial reactions of everyone I spoke to that day generally centered around the audacity of challenging the live demo gods so brashly, along with quiet murmurs about the obviously stellar level of confidence Aruba has in ArubaOS 8, the larger message was loud and clear: The infamous “network maintenance window” has been put on notice and its days are numbered. The innovations of the past few years have combined to deliver an unprecedented level of service and reliability that leap beyond mere enhanced user experience. We can more confidently than ever deploy wireless into scenarios with the strictest demands for uptime and reliability.

Aruba calls it Live Update, which conjures memories for me of long days and nights spent monitoring Symantec anti-virus definition rollouts in my younger days, but the moniker is perfect for what’s taking place on Aruba’s wireless infrastructure. It’s now possible in enterprise Aruba wireless environments to upgrade access points, controllers, and supporting software components without somewhere between zero and negligible impact on end users.

There are many obvious scenarios for which this is a game changer, but my thoughts immediately go to the healthcare customers I support—particularly hospitals and other 24x7 patient care facilities. Even in smaller hospitals, emergency rooms operate all day and night. The frailty of human life has no regard whatsoever for an IT department’s need to periodically flash firmware on an access point or ten, which has historically led to both a reluctance to use Wi-Fi for life-critical systems, and notoriously difficult maintenance windows that call in IT staff for 3 AM planned outages whenever they’re granted. While Live Update won’t eliminate maintenance windows for other systems such as network switches or specialty patient care systems, it removes one more significant obstacle in the network management lifecycle and potentially brings wireless into a service level class on par with virtualized, redundant data center systems.

Live Update is made possible by a few recent ArubaOS innovations you may already be familiar with. Just like in the data center, clustering provides a coordinated set of control plane appliances. AirMatch gives Aruba a superior level of radio resource management to provide a healthy environment in which to selectively upgrade and reboot access points. Backup “copies” of client sessions are kept on multiple controllers for allow for a seamless end user experience. ClientMatch further ensures the seamless experience by facilitating unprecedented visibility into how client devices “see” and use the network so controllers know the best way to selectively move clients from one AP to another.

As other mobility innovations settle into place over the coming months, including 802.11ax, as well as security and network intelligence analytics from Aruba’s recent acquisitions of Niara and Rasa, enterprise wireless will further evolve from the access medium of choice into the access method of trust. Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore some of these exciting developments, and what they mean for enterprise Wi-Fi.