Aruba's VBN line pushes IP telephony, secure Wi-Fi to teleworkers

Aruba's new remote access points let teleworkers and small branch offices quickly deploy and secure IP telephony and wireless, all of which are managed by central IT.

Aruba Networks is trying to take the hassle out of providing voice to remote workers by creating a line of remote

access points that let users themselves, without any pre-configuration, deploy secure wireless networks and install IP telephony from their remote office.

Aruba has also unveiled a line of branch office routers that securely and transparently connect remote offices to the corporate LAN.

With list prices starting at under $100, Aruba has set its sights squarely on capturing the growing telecommuter and teleworker market, with a keen focus on a low price point and simple deployment.

Paul DeBeasi, an analyst with the Burton Group, said the foray into home office and teleworker IP telephony could win Aruba some ready converts among enterprises looking to bring remote workers easily and securely onto corporate networks with a minimum of fuss.

"This can really broaden the market for the Aruba equipment," DeBeasi said. "We have many more companies with [employees] working from home."

Aruba's new PBN RAP-2 (remote access point) provides connectivity to as many as five concurrent wireless 802.11b/g endpoint devices. It also features an Ethernet connection that can be used for an IP phone or Internet access. All told, the RAP-2 supports about 4 Mbps of throughput.

The PBN RAP-5 has five Ethernet ports, with optional 802.11a/b/g/n access. It can also hook directly into a cellular 3G connection, giving remote workers in a branch office near-broadband speeds via a wireless network. List price is $395.

Finally, Aruba introduced the 600 Branch Office Controller line of branch office routers: the 620, which has eight Ethernet ports; the 650, which has six wired ports; and the 651, which has six wired ports and 802.11a/b/g/n access. These higher-powered office routers start at $1,495. The Branch Office Controllers can support up to 265 users.

Each of these new products connects the office LAN directly to the remote site, meaning that properly configured IP telephony setups become a simplified plug-and-play solution.

Michael Tennefoss, Aruba's head of strategic marketing, said the company was able to keep prices low across the line by leaving much of the work to Aruba's 6000 Multi-Service Controller, which can support and manage up to 8,000 RAP and 600 Series devices.

"The key thing is that we were able to ride on that [basic] platform because we're leveraging the controller to do so much of the heavy lifting," Tennefoss said. "You couldn't just take that platform and make it do what we're doing."

DeBeasi said that Aruba VBN products, particularly the $99 RAP-2, offer a unique combination of ease of use, low price and enterprise-ready security.

A remote worker, for example, can get set up with a secure connection and working IP telephony with only about five minutes of setup, and having to enter only a single URL when prompted.

They simply plug the RAP-2 into a working home office Ethernet connection, plug a laptop into the RAP-2's second Ethernet port, and follow an in-browser prompt to enter the corporate webpage for the RAP devices (for example, RAP.TechTarget.com). Based on centrally managed permissions and policies, the RAP-2 then automatically creates secure and unsecured Wi-Fi networks, initializes the IP phone, and allows end users to access the corporate network just as if they were connecting to the corporate LAN.

Properly configured, the remote IP phone then receives and makes calls just like any phone in the office, including 4-digit extensions, cheaper long distance, or any other configurations that are in place for the centrally located workers.

DeBeasi said Aruba has learned from the mistakes that it and other vendors have made. In the past, wireless companies have slowly written software for these kinds of capabilities into higher-end access points (APs) with price tags ranging from $400 to $600. The deployment has been inelegant, too, which has kept enterprises from deploying these enterprise-grade APs widely.

Tennefoss said the company had learned a lot since it first added remote connection features to its APs in 2007.

"That solution worked for some applications, like retail, but there were some configurations where that did not work, because it required setup by IT in advance," he said. "We had to eliminate that in order to reduce that overhead and make it affordable on a large scale. We've been working on that formula for the past two years."

Simplicity, security and control have been key challenges for enterprises looking to deploy voice widely to remote workers.

Pure, over-the-top VoIP is an inexpensive option, but when run over a home broadband connection, it fails to deliver quality-of-service. It also fails to integrate fully with the corporate system, which some vendors have tried to work around with varying degrees of success: Some enterprise-grade VoIP allows 4-digit extension dialing after another, special extension is entered, for example.

Other enterprises have sought to outfit remote workers with cell phones, but poor reception can kill a sales call, and with the down economy, companies are looking to save on cellular contracts as well.

With the RAP-2 and RAP-5, IT can avoid on-site visits to teleworkers' offices to deploy IP phones. End users can simply do it themselves by plugging a phone into the device.

Tennefoss said the 600 line did require some configuration because of its branch-in-the-box nature.

Pricing across the line is competitive, DeBeasi said. Combined with packaging and usability, the VBN products give a strong offering in branch office and remote networking.

"The competitors out there have not brought something to market like this," DeBeasi said, pointing to other network and telephony equipment mainstays like Cisco and HP, whose remote equipment is often priced much higher and generally lacks the plug-and-play without some sort of pre-configuration. "If it takes off, I'm sure competitors will respond."

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